Why Simon?

More times than I can count I have been asked how I got the idea for this story and “Why would you choose a skunk?”

Noah's ark and animalsWell, being that I am a children’s pastor the story of Noah and the ark was nothing new to me. I was planning a lesson for our upcoming children’s church that Sunday and the main lesson point was on obedience. Of course you have the story of Noah building this giant boat for all these animals and the amount of obedience it would take for him to not only start the task but complete it. However, I wanted to do something new, but what?

Several years ago, when I was dating my wife (several… has it been long???) we were working on something and I said the dreaded words, “I’m just not that creative.”  My wife shot back, “You serve the God who created heaven and Earth out of nothing. Don’t you think if you ask Him, He will give you enough creativity for the task at hand?” Ever since she so gracefully shared that with me, I have been putting it into practice in my life, and I have seen a great difference.

After praying for an idea, a thought came to me: What about telling the story from the animal’s point of view?

I thought it brilliant and set out to develop illustration ideas for the story. I found this part to be far greater of a challenge than coming up with the idea. If only there was a children’s book that illustrated this story! With that said I quickly put the children’s lesson aside and started writing the book.

skunk, Simon's Great Adventure, woodland creatureThe story all hinged on choosing the perfect main character, but what animal would work? There was only one we could think of that was cute and cuddly, attracts children and yet something about him still makes all humans nervous. It was the only choice… a skunk!

I really do think people would like skunks more if it wasn’t for their very stinky spray.  It makes everyone nervous. We identify with that part of the story, that everyone is mean to Simon just because he is a skunk. Simon is the object of scorn and ridicule which is why it is so hard to go see Noah; to him Noah is no different than any other human. The story shows the importance to doing what’s right even when it’s hard.

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Get the Purple Elephant into the Playroom

I have often heard it said that if you can teach children you can teach anyone, but if you can teach adults that doesn’t mean you can teach children.  I would have to agree with that statement.

When we teach or write for adults we expect a certain amount of their understanding or general acceptance of what you’re telling them, and if they don’t understand then we say it is their fault for not being able to grasp the story, or metaphors, or what-have-you.

When it comes to children, however, it is completely different.

If your readers do not understand or grasp the story, then the author must change – not the reader. Don’t misunderstand me, your main message does not need to change, but merely the way you package what you’re teaching. For example, if you order a burger at your favorite fast food restaurant, you don’t really care what the container is as long as it is the burger you order. Now, the restaurant will change their containers from time to time to attract new customers and so frequent customers do not get tired of the same thing all the time.

Just merely accepting the fact that this is your message and anyone who really wants to enjoy it must come to your level is un-realistic for children as children will not give it the time of day or think twice about it.

Grey sideways facing cartoon elephant, animal, mammalChildren cannot think like adults. Children think in concrete terms and not in abstract terms. A child can think of an elephant (if they have seen one) and they can think of the color purple Purple sideways facing cartoon elephant, animal, mammal(if they have seen the color purple) but cannot think of a purple elephant unless they have seen one. Conceptual ideas for children must be illustrated. There are many ways to do this:

  • drawing pictures,
  • acting it out,
  • reading stories,
  • using props and objects

… but it must be illustrated. 

It has been my experience that many adults enjoy the illustrations as well.  As much as we like to think of ourselves as high and mighty and way above a child’s level, the illustrations speak to us and many times help us to see things from a new perspective.

In your experience, how is writing for children different than writing for adults?

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My testimony

Cross and cupola

I was born in a small town in Missouri not to far outside of St. Louis. I am the second eldest of 5. My family never had much money, my father worked very hard and a result we only saw him on Sundays and the Saturdays he wasn’t working over time. I do remember one time he did come and pick me up from school in elementary, which I was excited about and it turned out I was in trouble when I got home I was punished quite severly for something I had done 2 days earlier.

My parents brought me to church pretty regularly. I suppose regularly for parents who never go to church. They would bring me and drop me off and then an hour later come back and get me. We might go for 6 weeks and then miss 6 weeks. When I got older I was surprised to find out that attendance at churches actually increased on the holidays as for us whenever there was a holiday we were not going to church for sure.

My first true test of who I was came when I joined the Marines in 99’. The goal of the Marine corp is to break you down so they can get rid of the stuff they don’t like and bulid you up to the stuff they do like. I’m not complaining, I understand why they do that, but it is what they attempted to do. For the changes that happened in my life I have always found my identity in Christ and unless they could change that I would at the core remain the same. Many fear that they will lose their faith in the Corp but I found that it drove me to be more committed, to learn more, and understand more of who God has called me to be. It was in the Marine Corp that I decided to become a pastor! Yes, you read that right.

Realizing very quickly that I knew very little about Christanity I decided to go to bible school. I attended Christ for the Nations, and then received my bachelors from Criswell College. I met my wife at Christ for the Nations, and she has taught me a great deal about understanding children and the (sorry for the understatement) great, great importance of teaching children the moment they are born. One of the greatest things I’ve learned about teaching them is that by the age of 4 their worldview is in place. If you wait until 4 it’s too late it has already been set.

Today I am a youth and children’s pastor at a Church in Harrisburg PA. I have two amazing children named Chad and Isabella. It is my hearts desire that the generations before us won’t have to wait until they are old to understand the things God has revealed to us but that they may always walk in His ways.

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Simon’s Great Adventure: A Skunk’s Tale of Obedience by Chad Swaringen

Simon is a young skunk excited to follow and obey God—until God makes a request that Simon doesn’t want to fulfill. God tells Simon to travel to meet a sea captain. Simon tries to disobey God, but because of his restless heart he is unable. Simon’s obedience is not only vital to Simon, but to all the skunks of the future. This is one boat you don’t want to miss!

Simon’s Great Adventure: A Tale of Obedience is the best book to teach young children about the importance of obeying God. Simon goes through the natural thoughts we go through when obeying God is hard. But as we have all learned, though it may be hard at times, it is always what’s best.

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