Science Book a Day Interviews David Schwartz

david-schwartzSpecial thanks to David Schwartz for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book (with photographer Dwight Kuhn) – Rotten Pumpkin: A Rotten Tale in 15 Voices

I write children’s books that reflect interests I’ve had since childhood, especially my love of numbers and nature. I try to do it in whimsical ways that make the ideas exciting and fun. Because many people seem to think my books are exciting and fun, and because I love to meet my readers, I spend a good deal of my time at elementary and middle schools all over the United States and abroad. I also speak to teachers and other educators at conferences. – From David’s Homepage

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#1 – What was the impetus for writing this book?

Dwight is the best one to answer this. It was his idea and he can tell you the story behind it.

#2 – Depictions of decay have been portrayed in art for centuries. What is our fascination with decay? And how did you decide to use it as a useful tool for science?

I think it’s the tension between beauty and revulsion. A lot of the molds and so forth are beautiful if you look at them objectively but we’ve been conditioned to view them with revulsion because it would make you sick if you ate moldy things. I think that sets up an interesting tension in our “liberated” minds that want to see the beauty but have to fight against the impulse to be repulsed. As for a tool for science, I’ll rephrase the question and call it a tool for “science education.” I think molds are a great subject for student experimentation because it’s easy to set up controlled experiments and find answers to all kinds of questions. The experiments are not only easy but dramatic and just a cool way to learn about science the way scientists do — by making observations, formulating hypotheses, running experiments, drawing conclusions, etc. There are a few suggested classroom activities at the back of the book, and more on the publisher’s website: Pumpkin Activities.pdf

#3 – How did you come to research the science of decay?

Well, since I agreed to write the text to go with Dwight’s fabulous pictures, I started reading about decay and, most importantly, I started calling experts — mycologists mostly. They looked at Dwight’s pictures and told me what they could discern from the pix. In some cases, it was difficult for them to tell. They would need to examine the specimens under the microscope and sometimes at different times in the development of the organism. Sometimes they disagreed in their identifications and in those cases we had to leave out the entries from the book entirely because we couldn’t be sure of the identification. That was really unfortunate. I really wanted to include some of those because there were good stories to go with them — but we couldn’t be sure.

#4 – What has been the reaction to your book? From adults? From kids?

Universally, very positive. Kids love to go “Eeeeewwww” and then quickly turn to see the next deliciously gross picture. Adults seem to admire the concept of following a pumpkin through its demise. What I like best is to find out when classes have actually  done rotting experiments.

#5 – Are you working on new projects/books that you can tell us about?

Our latest project is turning three nature books we wrote a few years ago, The Hidden Life of the Forest and The Hidden Life of the Pond and The Hidden Life of the Meadow into interactive e-books, with slightly different titles, The Hidden World of the Forest…Pond…Meadow, which is now available on the iTunes store for iPad and Mac. We’re throwing around ideas for some new books. I also write math books (How Much Is a Million?, G Is for Googol, If You Hopped Like a Frog, Millions to Measure, more) and I’m now working about a book about pi … and pie. The math and science of both pi and pie.

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