“Bring up the math term fractals in a roomful of adults, and it’s likely quite a few eyes will glaze over. Yet wife-and-husband team Sarah and Richard Campbell (Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature, rev. 5/10) succeeds in making fractals accessible and engaging to—get this—the elementary-school crowd. Sarah Campbell’s writing is clear, fluid, and concise, effortlessly so.”
The review is illustrated with a spread from the book (pp.12-13), which explains fractals and illustrates the explanation with a graphic of a fractal tree and a photograph of a living tree. Here’s a blog post from the day we took the tree photographs.
It still gives me thrill to see my work reviewed in The Horn Book because it has been part of my education in children’s books. “Glossy, well-designed pages feature crisp, up-close photographs, which pair perfectly with the text — making this the go-to choice for introducing fractals to children (and grownups).
On Friday, I drive to New Orleans to present at the International Reading Association‘s Annual Conference. I’ll be doing a session Saturday called “Reading and Writing Science Books? Paths to Creating Authentic Informational Texts,” with Dr. Amy Broemmel, who teaches pre-service teachers at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and Jessica Crosby-Pitchamootoo, who is a reading specialist at Girls Prep Charter School Bronx in New York. I spent a few days at Girls Prep in March, which you can read about here.
I will be signing copies of Mysterious Patterns and my other books on Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Boyds Mills Press booth.
On Monday, I fly to Pennsylvania for Writing About Nature, a Highlights workshop held at the homeplace of Highlights’ founders, Garry and Caroline Meyers. I’m excited to be on a faculty that includes Dianna Hutts Aston, Sallie Wolf, Debbie S. Miller, Mark Baldwin, and Andy Boyles (science editor at Highlights). I’ll be presenting a session titled “Photos + Stories = Winning Nonfiction,” critiquing manuscripts, and learning more about nature journaling and photography.
Boston Globe Review
The Boston Globe ran a nice review of Mysterious Patterns, too. “Sarah C. Campbell, aided by photographs she and her husband, Richard P. Campbell took, explains what does (lightning) and doesn’t (a swallowtail caterpillar’s markings) constitute a fractal. She delivers a tidy education, gives a nod to the use of fractals in the built world, and offers the hope that readers will invent new uses.
Read full review here.
Here’s an excerpt: “Using clear text and outstanding color photographs, Campbell explores the concept of these unusual shapes. Beginning with circles, cones, and cylinders, she leads readers carefully and concisely through examples of fractals such as trees, rivers, mountains, broccoli, lightning, and lungs. The photographs, sometimes highlighting the ever-smaller pieces of a vegetable fractal against a black background, sometimes drawing back to give a aerial view of a geological feature, are crisp and precise and underscore the clear text.”
Read the whole review here. I am excited about the reception that Mysterious Patterns is getting in the review press, but I am even more excited about the reception it is getting from kids.
“I never knew about these before!” “Oh, now I see. Cool.” Music to my ears.
This week I achieved a first in my publishing career when Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly. The reviewer wrote that, with the book, we “demystif(ied) the concept of fractals, which mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot used to help understand complicated shapes in nature. “Every fractal shape has smaller parts that look like the whole shape,” explains Campbell, with an illustration of a tree’s dividing branches making the idea instantly clear.”
You can read the full review here.
Another nice notice came from Ingram News and Reviews for the Youth Librarian, an online review site. Ingram is a large distributor of books to bookstores, schools, and libraries. “Campbell and her photographer husband do a fantastic job with photographs and explanations clarifying what these certain patterns are.”
The reviewer recommended the book to math teachers and art teachers. Read the full review here.
I am thrilled to see that Kirkus Reviews liked Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature.
The review opens like this: “Through examples of what fractals are and what they aren’t, this photo essay introduces a complex mathematical idea in a simple, inviting way.” And, here’s the final line: “For visual learners, this is a particularly accessible demonstration of an intriguing concept.”
Read the full review here. The book will be available starting April 1.
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.