A Chatham native's foray into the world of children's literature has resulted in estimated sales of close to a million books.
A Chatham native’s foray into the world of children’s literature has resulted in estimated sales of close to a million books.
Chatham-Kent secondary school grad Dr. Chris Ferrie, who lives in Sydney, Australia, with his wife and four children and is a faculty member at the University of Technology Sydney, has added bestselling children’s author to his long list of accomplishments. He’s penned 29 popular children’s books that deal with different facets of science, engineering and quantum physics.
His 30th book, There Was a Black Hole That Swallowed the Universe, will be published in September.
Ferrie, an award-winning physicist who obtained his doctorate in mathematical physics at the University of Waterloo, said the genesis of his highly popular, science-themed board book series came shortly after the births of his first two children.
“I wrote the first book, Quantum Physics for Babies, almost five years ago,” he said, “and I wrote that when I only had two kids. I was reading quite a few books to them and started looking for science books. I found a couple, but there were really no physics books to speak of, so I thought maybe I should write one myself and use it to read to my own kids.
“There were kids’ books about human anatomy and dinosaurs, obviously, so there were some science elements (in children’s books) but physics was something that was definitely missing. And when I started trying to come up with more specific ideas, the idea of quantum physics popped into my head because that’s the kind of research I do. Eventually, I shared it around with friends and family and their school teachers, and people seemed to like it, so I thought ‘why not just put it out there?’ I ended up self-publishing it, then a publisher picked it up and the rest is history.”
While Ferrie – and his publisher – initially wondered if his idea to turn toddlers onto concepts such as robotics, nuclear physics and quantum entanglement was a bit too far out for bookshop owners, kids and their parents, people starting buying his books in droves, intrigued by Ferrie’s colourful, child-friendly introductions to rather complex scientific concepts.
By giving precocious preschoolers a chance to explore scientific themes – some of Ferrie’s titles include Astrophysics for Babies, Neural Networks for Babies and the ABCs of Engineering – Ferrie said he hopes his books can light a spark and encourage a love of science in even the youngest reader.
Although Ferrie said there are no firm figures on how many of his books have been sold, his American publisher has shipped more than 1.5-million copies of his books to stores worldwide and has estimated that Ferrie’s books are approaching a million in sales.
Becoming a popular children’s author was something Ferrie could never even have imagined while growing up in Chatham.
“No, not at all,” he said, laughing. “I have one sibling and a few cousins, but I had never really interacted with young children until I had my own. But once you have kids, you realize there’s a completely different world out there, there’s so much out there for kids.
“It’s something that wouldn’t have crossed my mind before I had kids, though.”
Feedback from families who have purchased his books has been incredibly positive, Ferrie said, even touching at times.
“It’s kind of been uniformly positive, which I’m quite happy about,” he said. “It can be pretty overwhelming at times, too. I get a lot of messages from parents with children with special needs, very emotional messages about how useful these books have been for them to connect with their kids.
“I get daily pictures of babies holding my books, too. It’s hard to feel bad when you get cute pictures of babies holding your book every morning,”
And even though his books are targeted towards toddlers, older readers have found many uses for them as well. Parents routinely buy the books as gag gifts for their graduating children, Ferrie said, while an MIT professor told Ferrie he bought 50 copies of Quantum Physics for Babies for his advanced physics class.
Ferrie’s books are also helping people around the world learn English.
“It seems to work for a lot of audiences as well, which was surprising,” Ferrie said. “I had an email the other day from somebody who teaches English to teenagers in Japan, and he said that children’s books are great for teaching English as a second language, but usually the themes in the book are also for children. So apparently, this teacher told me, Newtonian Physics for Babies is the best way of teaching Japanese teenagers English, so it’s pretty funny to see that happening.”
Looking ahead, Ferrie said he plans on continuing writing science-based children’s books for the foreseeable future, though perhaps the books will be geared towards older children.
“I’m running out of topics in my own area of expertise, but I’ve been collaborating with other scientists on other topics to make more of these baby board books,” he said. “And as my kids grow older, I’m being exposed to new kinds of books for those audiences, so I’m thinking about how to bring science into those styles.”
As for his double duties of being a university faculty member as well as a popular children’s author, Ferrie said he is thoroughly enjoying both experiences.
“It’s great. The feedback for the children’s books is much more positive than my other writing, which is academic writing. Academics don’t send me heart emojis when they review my academic papers,” he said, laughing. “But I’ll keep doing my academic research not anticipating the same feedback that I get for the children’s books. It’s actually nice to be in both worlds.”