Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature earned a superior rating in The Horn Book Guide. For the uninitiated, this is a 2 on a scale from 1 (outstanding) to 6 (unacceptable). Any book with a 1 or 2 rating is marked with a bold triangle in the guide. I am grateful for the notice.
Also, Growing Patterns has been nominated for a Cybil Award in the 2010 Non-Fiction/Informational Picture Books category. The Cybils awards are given each year by bloggers for the year’s best children’s and young adult titles. The Growing Patterns‘ nomination came from Jennifer Wharton of Jean Little Library. Thank you, Jennifer. Read her review of Growing Patterns here.
Finally, a new librarian friend sent along some photos from last week’s Mississippi Library Association Author Awards dinner. So, Richard makes a rare public appearance on the blog.
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.
Most of our parsley has been trying to go to seed for the last month and I’ve just given up and let it go. We noticed a swallowtail butterfly on it a few days ago, and then we noticed lots of leafless stems. The caterpillars have arrived. We decided to get up early this morning to take photographs of the swallowtail caterpillars at different stages. First, I’ll show you the most recognizable.
Now, this is the smallest one we could find today.
Now, for the in between.
I also hunted for eggs, but didn’t find any. It looks like we were too late for this group. Maybe there will be another group. … Please. While we were looking, Richard spotted this guy.
I learned today that Joan Broerman, the founder of the Southern Breeze chapter of SCBWI, reviewed Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature on her Book Log blog. “Lavish photographs by both Campbells and easy to follow diagrams support the brief but clear text so even the most math resistant reader will be drawn in, totally unaware of how much he or she is learning,” Joan wrote. You can read the entire review here. Thank you, Joan.
Reading aloud even makes statewide standardized test days more bearable. I volunteered to be a proctor during this week’s tests at my sons’ middle school. (Well, I was nudged into it by my middle child.) I was assigned to a 7th grade classroom with Mrs. Whitley, a reading teacher.
The first time I served as a proctor, a few years ago, I felt as miserable as the kids as we sat in a room with nothing to do and waited for everything to be in place for the testing to begin. In short order, I was casting around for anything to read. I grabbed the novel the social studies teacher was teaching and started reading — out loud. The kids looked at me like I had lost my mind, but they asked if I would continue after the tests had been completed and were on the way back to the test administrator.
Ever since, whenever I am talked into proctoring, I make sure I have a suitable book. Last year, for a class of 8th graders, I read from Walter Dean Myers’ book Fallen Angels. This year, I grabbed Ten Mile River by Paul Griffin. I reviewed the book here last year.
I always have to believe enough in what I am doing to bully through some of the initial reactions. Is this woman crazy? Is she really reading those words? Did she just say ‘yo’? Yo? I proctored two days and they asked me to make sure I brought the book back the next day. Several asked whether it was available at the school library. I told them how they could get it through the public library across the street, that they should pursue it through inter-library loan if it wasn’t in the collection.
Maybe they will and maybe they won’t, but I know they enjoyed spending time with Ray, Jose, Trini, and Yolie. It made it much more fun for me, too. (I’m still trying to figure out how to improve the experience of walking the floor for two and a half hours while they test.) Charlie Chaplin slow motion, maybe?
Growing Patterns was included in a roundup of concept books in the May 2010 issue of Notes from the Horn Book, an online newsletter. The issue’s headliner is an interesting interview with Laura Vaccaro Seeger. I’d already seen and noted the three other books grouped with mine: Stephen R. Swinburne’s Whose Shoes? Mark Gonyea’s A Book About Color, and Ken Robbins’s For Good Measure. Three of the four are illustrated with photographs and two of the four (mine and Swinburne’s) are books by my publisher: Boyds Mills Press. Cool!
Another note from the Notes newsletter: Deborah Wiles‘s Countdown is featured in a roundup of War Stories. I am looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this book, which is billed as a documentary novel. It is in the War Stories section because it deals with the Cold War. (I have just finished a Korean War story, Chang-rae Lee’s The Surrendered and I am about to begin Karl Marlantes’ Matterhorn, a Vietnam War story.)
I found this frog in the basement and released it to a halfway house (plastic tub with lots of dirt and hiding places) onto my porch. Richard snapped a few photos before it took its leave. This is the first time I’ve seen one of these guys around. Mostly, I just see toads.
My copy of The Horn Book Magazine arrived while I was away. Though my editor had sent me an electronic copy of Tanya D. Auger’s review for Growing Patterns and I wrote about it here, it was very nice to see the hard copy.
It is my first review since the magazine added color throughout. I love the page they chose to feature next to the review. It seemed to print a little dark, but gives readers a good look at the book’s design.
Here’s an excerpt: “With its glossy, clutter-free pages; crisp, colorful photographs; and clear, straight-to-the-point text, this interactive picture book by the creators of Wolfsnail is an attractive, satisfying introduction to the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8… A lone seed and a peace lily with its single petal are presented as the first two elements of the number pattern. Readers are then asked to count the petals on a crown of thorns (2), a spiderwort (3), a flowering quince (5), and a cosmos (8). Each new flower is pictured in an increasingly larger square with dimensions linked to its number of petals (e.g., the spiderwort is shown in a three-by-three square, the quince in a five-by-five square, etc.).”
Just like in Publisher’s Weekly, the Growing Patterns review appears next to a review of Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci, a book by Joseph D’Agnese. I hope they’ll pop up together in home, classroom, school, and public libraries, too.
I first heard about Blockhead from the manager of the children’s section at my local independent bookstore: “There’s another Fibonacci book coming out this spring, too.” I was worried for a tiny little minute that someone else had had the same idea I had. Would there be enough room in the market for two Fibonacci books? I was relieved when my internet search revealed that the book in question was very different. It was an illustrated biography for a slightly older audience. I was really curious and interested.
About the same time I was finding out about Blockhead, its author was learning about my book. We got in touch and, in the way things often go in this business, I now consider Joseph D’Agnese a friend. We sent each other copies of our books; he hosted me on his blog during my launch week; and I am returning the favor.
I have one advantage over him in my part of this virtual tour: I got to read his book before this post. So, instead of only an interview, I can offer my informed opinion. I enjoyed this book a lot and I think it has serious kid appeal. Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci is an interesting hybrid between picture book biography and fable. D’Agnese, a freelance writer who used to edit a math magazine for kids, wanted to write about Fibonacci and the relationship between Fibonacci numbers and nature. The problem was there is no evidence that Fibonacci knew about this connection. So D’Agnese imagined a scenario in which Fibonacci does see the connection. In D’Agnese’s story, the young Fibonacci faces pressure from his schoolmaster and his father who aren’t sure he is applying himself to his lessons with sufficient diligence. What kid can’t relate to that?
It may be that I have more appreciation for D’Agnese’s text than the average reader; I know intimately the potential pitfalls involved in writing about: a) someone who lived so long ago (when names were not like our names) and b) a sequence that solved a number problem with more than a few convoluted conditions. I am referring here to the Rabbit Problem. Take my word for it, D’Agnese handles these problems with ease. Blockhead is a delightful tale about an important mathematician, his world travels, and his breakthrough ideas.
Come back tomorrow for the interview.
I went back to Davis Magnet School today to facilitate the writing of captions. If you remember, I went out with second graders earlier this month as they photographed their neighborhood for a unit called Davis on the Map. Today, I sat with groups of four or five at a time at a kidney shaped table and we talked about proper nouns, active verbs, capitalization, spelling, and pronouns. We learned words: official, baptismal, peel, kiln, convince, unresolved and Jamaica. We had to consult dictionaries, the internet (which was slow and ineffective – ha!), and the teacher’s notes.
As the teacher and I worked with each group writing captions, the other students spent time going from one center to another. One of the centers was dedicated to books that were related to our unit. I added a work-in-progress of mine to the pile and invited the students to read it and make comments. Once our caption writing work was done, I talked with three students about the manuscript. One girl expressed her observations in the form of “text to self connections and text to text connections.” This particular manuscript is missing an ending so I asked them to give me their ideas and, of course, they had some good ones. I love interacting with my audience!
Wolfsnail update: A new review of Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator went up on Maggie Reads, the blog of a librarian in the northeast part of the state. I really appreciate the kind words about the book and the recommendations for its use with kids. She also mentioned Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature.
Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature received a positive review in Publisher’s Weekly.
“Besides being eye-catching, the photographs ought to prove invaluable for visual learners (spiral patterns in a pinecone are darkened for visibility). Kids should be left with a clear understanding of the pattern and curious about its remarkable prevalence in nature.”
Read the whole review here. Scroll about three-quarters of the way down the page.