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!