Monday, October 29, 2018

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Seth Fishman

My dad didn’t know how to do anything.

Except, perhaps, read books, tell jokes, and find oil (he was a geologist in Texas).

Seth's dad riding an ostrich
But I never learned any of the basic cool parenting things that both moms and dads often teach their kids like how to fish, how to change the oil or a flat tire, how to camp, anything about gardening/lawn maintenance, woodworking (or, rather, how to handle dangerous tools), how to cook, or how to build or install furniture.

Before my son was born, I had something of a panic attack realizing that I had none of these bright and shiny stereotypical parental abilities. I even enrolled, with a friend, in a plumbing (very helpful!) and electrical wiring (helpful at teaching me not to do electrical wiring) course to learn useful skills for around the house to fill in some of the gaps in my dad knowledge.

I played soccer a little, and ultimate Frisbee. I have an MFA in Creative Writing (the most useful degree). I like to read. I know I have something to offer, but what I really wanted was to be competent in all things, no matter how silly that sounds.

Since I couldn’t do much handiwork, I decided that I would endeavor to answer all the questions my son would inevitably ask me.

Of course, I recognized that the key wasn’t knowing answers, it was learning answers to his questions together in a way that’s honest, interesting, and hopefully long-lasting. But back then, I remember thinking: what if he asks me how many stars there are in the sky and I don’t know? He’ll think me a failure. I know that’s dramatic, but, for a split second, it was true.

When I did the research and discovered the beautiful true number of stars—a hundred billion trillion—a picture book concept was born. The words and illustrations transition from the vast universe to the one person that mattered, my son. The book would do more than just list fun facts and big numbers. It would ignite a sense of wonder about things we don’t understand, and convey the idea that it’s OK to not know.  It would show that we all have a role to play, that we are a functional, important part of the vastness.

If I can help my son and other young readers gain a small moment of self-realization and universe-understanding, it seems like the book’s purpose is fulfilled. And maybe my father taught me everything I needed to know, after all.

Seth Fishman is a native of Midland, Texas (think Friday Night Lights), and a graduate of Princeton University and the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. He spends his days as a literary agent at The Gernert Company and his nights (and mornings) writing. He is the author of the Mathical Book Prize winner and Horn Book/Boston Globe Honor nonfiction picture book, A HUNDRED BILLION TRILLION STARS, along with two young adult novels. His next picture book—again with the New York Times Bestselling illustrator Isabel Greenberg—Is called POWER UP, and is out in March 2019. He lives in LA with his wife and son.

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