I have been going more than usual and now I need to take a breath and tell you all about it. (Quickly, too, because I am heading back out on the road tomorrow.) I’ll catch up chronologically.
I presented Growing Patterns at a Wells Church fellowship supper. It was wonderful to be among such good friends and to share Fibonacci numbers with our neighborhood kids.
A bonus for me (and I hope for the audience) was that I read from my newest manuscript. Reading it out as a work-in-progress really helps me. I need to hear how it’s working (or not). Mostly I feel like it is, which is really satisfying.
Chattahoochee Valley Writers’ Conference
I presented two workshops at the Chattahoochee Valley Writers’ Conference: “Photos+Stories=Winning Nonfiction” and “Earn $$ Before You are Published.” I had 90 minutes with each group of writers, which was very nice. I was able to use about a third of the time to hear from them about their projects and share some advice.
The Columbus Public Library was a very nice venue and the technology worked flawlessly (except one glitch of mine, which was fixed by one of the participants in my workshop. Thank you, David Johnson. I hope he publishes his project.)
The night before my presentations I enjoyed a reading and talk by Jessica Handler, the author of Invisible Sisters. I loved the excerpts she read to us and I found what she had to say about writing memoir very interesting.
McWillie Elementary School Visit
Chastain Middle School Visit by Jewell Parker Rhodes
When we moved to Mississippi from Evanston, Illinois, I began attending Richardson Primary School. I was in the second grade. My mother took these pictures one day during dismissal.
I am feverishly searching for archival material related to my current work-in-progress. This has led me (and my mom) to boxes, binders full of negatives, and, even, an old purse that contains envelopes full of pictures. (I should take a picture of that.) Here are some of today’s cool, cool finds.
We were seriously good, y’all. Lonzo, middle back row wearing jacket, had a mean fast ball. Emilye, second from left on front row, was the “best back catcher in the state of Mississippi.” Dave Crosby, back left, and Sam Cadney, back right, coached. Mr. Cadney also was the umpire.
For the first time in a few years, our weekends this autumn will include organized soccer. A neighbor recruited D for this recreational team and the opening couldn’t have been tougher.
The boys played two games back-to-back in near-100 degree heat.
By the end of the second game, their legs were completely gone. We were proud of D for sticking it out. It can only get easier.
Richard and I were not as prepared as we should have been. We remembered to bring a quilt to sit on, but we should have brought some shade and should have worn sunscreen. Our brightly colored quilt attracted a butterfly, though. I think it’s a clouded sulphur.
I love getting mail from readers. This week I received a letter from a second grader about Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature.
Here’s part of what he wrote:
“This is what I like about your book:
1) that I can read it,
2) the colorful photographs of nature,
3) learning about the Fibonacci numbers.
The photograph of the pinecone is my favorite.”
This student wrote because he read Growing Patterns for summer reading. In writing the letter to me about the book, he fulfilled a requirement. It’s nice that students have choices about how to engage with the books they read for summer reading.
A few days ago, I went to an exhibit that included some photographs taken by my son Douglas.
His art class completed a project on everyday life that was inspired by a photography exhibit by students in Montana. In addition to taking and printing photographs, the students in D’s class made prints inspired by their photographs. It was really fascinating to see how the students interpreted their photographs in another medium.
The students in Montana are part of a rural Hutterite community so the photographs of their daily lives were quite different from the ones of the Jackson students. D and his classmates completed this project last year, but there wasn’t time for an exhibit until this school year. I know D enjoyed his time in the darkroom and looks forward to more photography projects.
All authors and illustrators have hopes and dreams for their books. Some of us have a hard time speaking these dreams out loud. It seems presumptuous, I guess, to speak of the possibilities: a kid begging mom to check it out again and again; a teacher using it in the classroom; positive reviews; and the un-whisperable awards. I feel so lucky in Wolfsnail to have had a first book that succeeded beyond my modest hopes and dreams. It proved a hit with readers, teachers, librarians, parents, bloggers, and naturalists.
With Growing Patterns, my second book, I catch myself expecting things that were delightful surprises with Wolfsnail. This time I allowed myself to expect reviews in the professional review press, and, thankfully, they came. I tried not to let the pressure of living up to a successful first book faze me. While I was writing, and Richard and I were taking photographs, we immersed ourselves in the challenge of bringing a picture book about Fibonacci Numbers in Nature to early elementary aged kids.
One of the great things about Wolfsnail, to be sure, was the surprise. I mean, a meat-eating snail? As I did the early work on Growing Patterns, I kept thinking “I can’t believe no one did this before.” After all, people have been writing about Fibonacci Numbers for centuries. The deeper I got into it, I realized that at least one possible explanation for the fact that no one had done this before was that it was impossible. But I believed so strongly in the child’s fascination with flowers, numbers, and patterns, that I kept on pushing. I kept on trying new things.
I also showed it to a lot of kids and was encouraged by their enthusiasm and interest. One of the things I always hope for as I launch a new book is that kids and others who care about their reading lives will take it seriously. This week a review appeared on A Fuse #8 Production that was enormously satisfying. First of all, it was written by Elizabeth Bird, an influential voice in children’s literature. A review on Bird’s blog, which appears on School Library Journal, is another one of those things for which you hope. She said some very nice things — about Wolfsnail and Growing Patterns. But, what I appreciate most is that she understood the complexities of the project and could see the ways we tried to address them. Here’s a long excerpt from the review:
“I did appreciate that the book makes an effort to be a little subtler than a Fibonacci book for children in the past might have been,” she writes. “In the old days a non-fiction title for kids would be more than happy to merrily proclaim that Fibonacci was an Italian fellow who discovered these numbers and published a book on them in 1202, end of story. Ms. Campbell, however, mentions more than once that before Fibonacci was strutting about, these numbers were known in India by a variety of scholars (and she even names them by name). There’s also a note at the end of the book that says, “Not all numbers in nature are Fibonacci numbers. A dogwood has 4 petals, and an amaryllis has 6.” You’d be forgiven if your natural reaction to this was an outraged, “So what’s the point then?” Fortunately, if you read the extra text in the back there’s an actual little section there called “Why Fibonacci Numbers?” that says that these numbers show up 90 percent of the time in plants with multiple parts around a single stem. It’s not perfect, but it’s there.”
“There is no non-fiction subject so interesting that full-color photographs taken post-1990 cannot improve. Would Nic Bishop be the star he is today if he didn’t have the power of his lens to work with? The Campbells gave Bishop a run for his money a couple of years ago when they photographed one of the world’s more slimy denizens in Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator. The obvious difference here is that while most of these photographs are taken in nature, just as Wolfsnail was, others have been doctored for teaching purposes. The most obvious example is a two-page spread that shows the same pinecone three times but with different digitally darkened spirals in two of the shots. It’s a good thing the text says that “All the pictures on these two pages show the same pinecone” because otherwise it would ruin the whole purpose of the shots. Of course all the photos are lovely, but it’s nice to also see that they serve to drill home certain points.”
The other great thing about thorough, careful reviews is that they remind you once again that any success your book is enjoying depends on the work of so many people: my editor, Andy Boyles; my art director, Tim Gillner; my copy editor, Joan Hyman (whose gentle insistence on clarity made the pineapple pages work!); and, of course, my mother, Patty Crosby, (whose reading about money tipped me off to the earliest references to the Fibonacci sequence). Thanks, everybody. We’re six months into the life of Growing Patterns and things are going really well.
P.S. I have several of Elizabeth’s reviews cut and pasted in files on my computer. One relates directly to the new manuscript I’ve been talking about. Once I find it a home, I’m going to write to her and tell her she was part of the inspiration!
Sewing always helps me clear my head for work.
I made the above piece recently as I was working through some difficulties with my current story. Spending time handling fabric, calculating lengths, sewing, trimming, and hemming is like brain food. A good friend got this for a birthday present, but it was a gift to me, too. It is the second in my “Not White” series. My sister, Jessica, got the first piece for Christmas.
Now that I’ve mentioned it, I’ll tell you more about my current story. I’m writing a picture book that centers on an event in my early life. It’s set in 1973 and is quite a departure from my two previous books. I won’t be illustrating it with photographs and it can’t be called nonfiction. It’s full of dialogue. I pushed really hard to get it ready by this week so I could send it for critique at the fall conference of Southern Breeze region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Registration is open for the conference, which will be held in Birmingham on Oct. 16. If you think you might want to write magazine pieces or books for children, please come.
In other news, Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature was featured in two more reviews. The Midwest Book Review called the book “lovely and different.” Growing Patterns “ties math to nature and creates lovely closeup photos of this number sequence.”
On the blog Moms Inspire Learning, the writer suggests pairing the book “with a nature walk to count the petals on flowers, or children might enjoy examining actual pinecones and pineapples.” See the full entry here.