After more than 40 years of speaking to elementary school kids about weather, James Spann knows what they want to know about.
“I’m in 1-2 schools a day so I know their questions,” Spann said. “After doing this for so many years, I noticed more of two things: kids that have a fear of weather because maybe they have experienced severe weather, and kids that are fascinated with weather because, in part, they are constantly exposed to it. Back when I was growing up you might see some news guy on TV for a couple of minutes and then they go back to regular programming where now you stay on for hours and they see tornadoes on social media.”
Those trends are what led Spann, the chief meteorologist at Alabama’s ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, to publish his first children’s book, “Benny and Chipper: Prepared…Not Scared.” The book illustrates the adventures of Benny the bear and Chipper the dog as they work together to build a safe room and help Chipper to overcome his fear of storms.
“I’ve learned that information is really powerful and if you can present the information about storms in a calm way to kids that are afraid, the more they learn and that fear begins to wane,” Spann said. “That’s what got me into this. On summer afternoons every day we’ve got a thunderstorm somewhere in Alabama. All the other kids hated them but I thought this was the greatest entertainment ever, but I had so many questions and I had nobody to answer those questions for years. I just didn’t know. There was no internet and no books like this to read back then.”
Spann said the book was also written for children based on advice from counselors and social scientists.
“One thing I’ve learned from social scientists – they say it over and over: Catch them when they’re young,” Spann said. “If you can catch these kids in elementary school and get this ingrained into their mind about safety, as they grow up and have their own kids later in life they’re going to take this stuff seriously and they’re going to be ready to go. It’s a very effective way of keeping Alabamians safe during times of severe weather.”
“Benny and Chipper: Prepared…Not Scared” was written by Spann’s wife and one of his sons, whom Spann said is much more creative than he is. It was illustrated by Jeremy Davis, a friend of Spann’s from Bibb County. ABC News chief meteorologist Ginger Zee, who interned for Spann in 2000, wrote the forward for the book.
“I’m not a creative writer,” Spann said. “I’m just thankful I have folks in my family that are creative writers and can tell these stories. It’s really good.”
The book is one of three published by Spann. His memoir, “Weathering Life,” was published in 2019 and “All You Can Do Is Pray,” the story of the generational tornado outbreak of April 25-28, 2011, was published earlier this year. Spann said more books are planned so that Benny and Chipper can answer more weather questions.
“We’ll go through tornadoes and hurricanes and all the stuff kids want to know about,” Spann said of the upcoming books. “Why is the sky blue? Kids ask these questions, and addressing all of this with these lovable characters, I think it’s going to work out very well.”
To purchase or learn more about this or Spann’s other books, visit spannbook.com.
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)