The renowned science writer turned Web entrepreneur has launched StarWalk Kids
Seymour Simon is not your typical start-up hopeful. At 81, he’s already had a long and prolific career as an award-winning author of science books for children. But like the researchers and explorers that he’s written about for more than three decades, he’s all about looking ahead to what’s next.
Simon and his partner, Liz Nealon, have created StarWalk Kids, a digital content streaming service that’s available by subscription. Launched last month, the current catalog of 148 ebooks—expected to grow to 400 by the end of the 2012–2013 school year—emphasizes nonfiction. The list includes 53 of Simon’s own books, updated and reformatted for a new generation of readers.
While there are original ebooks on the list (eventually 10 to 15 a year, according to Nealon), StarWalk has a unique focus on revising out-of-print works by well-known authors, such as Kathleen Krull, Doreen Rappaport, and Laura Vaccaro Seeger. “There are wonderful books, which, through no fault of their own, have become out of print,” says Simon, who personally approached his author friends about giving new digital life to their works.
“We are getting the best out-of-print books and making them better,” he says. “And the authors are absolutely delighted with what we’re doing.”
Available via the browser-based StarWalk Reader, the books can be read via desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smartphones, and interactive whiteboards. And the new service features anytime access—students with an account can log in from home or anywhere they have an Internet connection. And multiple users and whole classes can read the same title simultaneously.
Nealon, Sesame Street’s former creative director, says, “We think this is the future of digital media for schools, because it’s device neutral and offers simultaneous access.”
Without naming names, Simon recalls being turned down by publishers when he approached them about digitizing his titles. “A legacy publisher has to defend its print list,” he explains. “StarWalk has no legacy. Our core business is digital.”
StarWalk’s collection, about 60 percent nonfiction and geared for kids in grades PreK to eight, ranges from the “Zoo Animals” nonfiction series for younger children by Caroline Arnold and the “Riverside Kids” chapter book series by Johanna Hurwitz to Days of the Dead and Surtsey: The Newest Place on Earth, two photo-essay titles by Kathryn Lasky. Newly revised and redesigned, each StarWalk edition is narrated, offering the user a “Read to Me” option.
Designed for classroom use, the books accommodate note taking and highlighting. Educators can search for books by author, title, keyword, subject, Lexile level, alphabetic reading level, and Common Core (CC) State Standards links. An especially handy feature for younger users is the ability to navigate by thumbnail images of each page, which appear along the bottom of the Reader. “Teaching Links” match each title to relevant CC standards and provide suggested activities.
“I’m delighted by the fact that the book can survive from printed form to the new generation of digital,” says Simon, who adds that both have a place and he doesn’t think that print will go away. “I’ve always kept up with computers,” he says, reminiscing about the “Atari days.” “And I’m invigorated by the future.”