James Spann: Meteorologist, TV Superstar, and…Children’s Book Author?
With his new book series, mainly for first- through fifth-graders, Spann hopes to utilize his extensive weather knowledge to reach a larger audience of little ones.
“If I wasn’t a weatherman for a living, I’d be a third-grade science teacher,” Spann said. “Kids think I’m funny. Adults don’t always get it, but kids always think I’m funny.”
Spann hopes his books will entertain children who are fascinated by weather and help those who fear it.
“I’ve seen so many kids who absolutely love weather,” Spann said. “But I’ve also seen kids who are scared to death of storms. We want to let the kids that love weather learn in a fun way. We also want to help the kids that have a fear. Information is very powerful and starts a process of reducing fear.”
While Spann may not be much of a creative type, luckily for him, he had a few good writers at his disposal. However, his special contribution to the book's text came toward the end. He wrote a chapter about the science behind weather, which he hopes will be a good source of information that can “offset fear.”
“I teach science,” Spann said. “That’s what I do. I’m not a creative writer. My wife and one of our boys … they’re very good … they collaborated and started a series called ‘Benny and Chipper.'"
According to Spann, the first book in the series, “Benny and Chipper: Prepared…Not Scared," is about "having a plan and being ready to do what you need to do, but in a fun way.”
Jeremy Davis, an illustrator from Bibb County, brought the book's main characters, Benny, a big bear, and Chipper, a beagle dog, to life “in a really special way.”
Spann had his fellow meteorologists from around the country contribute to the “Benny and Chipper” series. Ginger Zee, Chief Meteorologist for ABC News New York, wrote the book’s forward.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been difficult for Spann to visit classrooms and talk about severe weather preparedness, which is something he used to do frequently. This book, he said, is a perfect way “to reach kids all over the country.”
For parents who are trying to teach their children about severe weather, Spann has one simple piece of advice.
“Be honest with them,” he said. “They’re going to hear about tornadoes. You might not want to talk about them, but they’re going to hear about it. They need to know what to do. When you don’t talk with them, that is when they become afraid.”
Spann’s book series comes at a timely release, just before the 10-year anniversary of the April 27, 2011 tornado that devastated central Alabama. When asked about the anniversary, Spann often comes back to the death toll – 252 statewide – asserting that "it shouldn't have been that way."
To mitigate loss of life and encourage getting through inevitable severe weather events with as little harm to people as possible, Spann has spent the last decade realizing that his greatest resource isn't data or technology or social media, it's the people themselves. This is why he started the “Be a Hero” campaign.
“Not everyone is going to watch us on television … if you’re watching us and see a friend or relative in a polygon, call or text them,” Spann said. “When you do that, you are a hero.”
Spann says he has noticed a “dramatic improvement” in tornado preparedness since the commencement of the “Be a Hero” campaign.
Another item Spann is stressing this severe weather season is simple safety tips that could be lifesaving, like keeping a bicycle or construction helmet in your tornado safety room.
“We think over 50 people who died on April 27th might be alive if they had a helmet on,” Spann said. “Most serious injuries occur in the neck, skull and head region.”
Teaching children, says Spann, is also a great way to teach parents.
“We want kids to start learning what to do and be informed,” Spann said. “If there’s no family plan, the kids will get in there and take care of business.”
For those interested in purchasing the first installment in his newest children’s series, visit www.spannbook.com
Ways to Receive Severe Weather Information
Severe Weather Terminology You Should Know