Seeing fractals everywhere

One of our dill plants is flowering. Richard and I walked by it for days, and talked about wanting to photograph it. Today, we made the time.

dill 1

dill 2

dill2 close

Young Readers Center

I visited the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress this week, and look what I found. Wolfsnail! Actually, I wasn’t surprised. I met the founding director of the Young Readers Center at a conference a few years back and heard her pitch for books. She had no budget, but wanted to build a collection of books in the Library of Congress that kids could actually take off the shelves and read when they visited. So, I sent her a copy.

wolfsnail at LOC

I learned that they don’t have a copy of Growing Patterns, so that’s one of my jobs for this week. While I was at the LOC, I spent some time in the Science Reading Room. It is a lovely space, and reminded me of the many great libraries I’ve had the privilege of studying in — especially Northwestern University’s Charles Deering Library, the New Bodlein Library at Oxford University, and the Corpus Christi College Library.

I was only in Washington, D.C., for a few hours, tagging along with Richard on a business trip. We flew to DC, where he met with members of Congress and I visited the LOC, and then took the train to Baltimore, where I did some site-seeing, reading, and R&R. It reminded me of the summer I graduated from college (25 years ago) when I spent a term in DC covering the Capitol for a Mississippi newspaper. Several of my classmates and I spent a day up in Baltimore. Lovely times.

Though it rained much of the time we were in Baltimore, Richard and I managed two nice meals out — one Italian and one Thai. I read a few New Yorkers, Big Brother by Lionel Shriver, and started Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

We’re working hard to finish the images for the fractal manuscript. This one is proving hard to put to bed, but I think it’ll be all the better for it.

My Dedicated Critique Group

One way I work to make my manuscripts stronger is by test driving them with readers. With this book, I’ve gone back again and again to this select group of fourth graders at Davis Magnet IB World School. I worked with these students as third graders to make math story books. See post here. They’ve been giving me feedback this year on my fractal book.
Davis reading fractals

I’ve had good suggestions from them, and from Beth West, who is the International Baccalaureate curriculum coordinator at Davis. Some are: use different color lines for each iteration in the tree fractal and use lungs as the fractal example from the human body. Some of their best feedback comes in the form of questions or comments. One said on Wednesday: I think this version is better because I didn’t really understand fractals before. Phew!
Critique Group Fractal

Favorite from the Awards Ceremony

It seems our kids spend most of their May school days taking tests. When they’re not testing, they’re presenting final projects, papers, and performances. Today, I went to Murrah High School for the Sophomore Awards Ceremony. Here’s my favorite photograph from the event. The 10th grade guidance counselor, Mr. Sayles, had just asked the students to guess which of the high achievers in the bunch had the current highest average. Who’s No. 1? This is what they did.
who is No. 1
All fingers pointed to Matthew Sarpong. And then, Mr. Sayles refused to say.

I’ve been neglecting the blog lately — mainly because we’ve been working hard on the fractal project.

taking QAL

Here Richard is shooting Queen Anne’s Lace with help from our friend and collaborator, Julie Owen. She brought the Queen Anne’s Lace to us, having found it along the highway between Baton Rouge and here.
This is one of our favorites from the shoot.

Some very exciting things are happening right now with the fractal manuscript! Through hard work, perseverance, and just plain good luck, we are going to be able to include some amazing stuff! I love it when a book comes together!

Two Sessions at NSTA 2013

I’ve been hard at work on the work-in-progress. And, the work is hard. I’m wrestling text and images and graphics into place, staring down a deadline. In the last two days, I’ve made really good progress. There’s nothing like having Richard available to produce the graphics I need when I need them. I wish he were my full-time office companion.

After two long days, I need to let some things settle a bit so I have time for a quick blog post. I was in San Antonio last weekend for the National Science Teachers Association annual convention.

Sarah at NSTA13

I was one of nine authors (Terry Jennings (Gopher to the Rescue), Darcy Pattison (Desert Baths), Elizabeth Rusch (The Mighty Mars Rover), Melissa Stewart (Under the Snow), Catherine Thimmesh (Team Moon), Peggy Thomas (Farmer George Plants a Nation), and Sallie Wolf (The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound) who participated in a workshop titled: “Integrating Science and Literacy: A Journey, Not a Destination.” Each of us was paired with a professor of education. My partner was Dr. Amy Broemmel from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She helped me share the educational materials I’ve developed for Wolfsnail and Growing Patterns with four groups of teachers who rotated through our table. She took these photographs.

the backstoriesIn my second session, “The Power of Scientists’ Stories in Teaching NGSS Methods and Practices,” I teamed up with Dr. Kristin Rearden, who also teachers at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and Andy Boyles, science editor at Highlights.

Once again, it was my job to share ideas with teachers for using my books in classrooms to meet the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

teaching looking at snail on move book

I led the group in making a Fibonacci Folding Book, and talked about the Fibonacci Puzzle, the Wolfsnail On The Move book, and the instant book.

Kristin Rearden

Here is Kristin talking about bringing pinecones into the classroom to have students look for the Fibonacci sequence in the spirals on the bottom.

three presentersWe had lunch after our session to talk about what we might do for future conferences. Presenting at national conferences is always a wonderful experience because it brings me into dialogue with the people who use my books in classrooms and libraries with kids. I always learn things, and I always have fun.

Check out a new blog called Perfect Pairings: Linking Science and Literacy written by Kristin and Amy. You’ll find great trade picture books to use in your classrooms.

Fractal Models

The latest set of images for our fractal project are of three-dimensional geometric fractal shapes. I ordered these from Shapeways, a company that does 3-D printing from the work of independent designers. This first image is of a Menger sponge.

menger spongeThis next shape is a Sierpinski tetrahedron.

blue Sierpinski tetrahedron

Leaf Macro

I collected a few leaves on yesterday’s walk and one on today’s. I’ve got fractal patterns on my mind. I love the veining structures in these leaves.

tight leaf vein pattern

big breaking down

breaking down tight

Learning New Photoshop Skills

For my new book, I need to illustrate a concept that involves a head of broccoli. I thought I had a good way to do it, but it wasn’t working as well as it needed to. So, I decided to go after a slightly different way of showing. It meant using Adobe Photoshop to “cut out” the broccoli head from its background, and then “cutting out” smaller sections of the head.

While I’ve always relied on Richard in the past to do most of the post-production, I had several reasons for diving into this job myself. First, I love learning new things. Second, he was wanting to watch a ballgame (Liverpool v. Tottenham). Third, I wasn’t sure my idea would work and didn’t want to put him through all the pain if it wasn’t going to prove out. So, I took up the pen.

Sarah using wacom

closer sarah learnsAfter I created the image I wanted in Photoshop, I imported it into Adobe InDesign. One of the great things about Photoshop is that you can create different layers in an image that show different things.

In this case, the final file included more than 5 layers. Instead of saving each of the versions as its own file, I was able use a tool called Layer Comps. I read up on the tool using Adobe’s help page, and was able to import the file into my InDesign document six different ways. I love my Adobe Creative Suite products and the way they work together.


Sorry to have been away from blogging so long. Richard and I went out taking pictures again today. We’re taking more shots for the new book. This one may or may not fit, but I love the pattern.

curved bricks copyright

These spheres against the cloudy sky were cool.

lights at capitol

sphere lights at Capitol

Visiting Bailey Middle

Today I visited an advanced 8th grade English class at Bailey Middle School. Mrs. Camille Magee, the teacher, taught my three sons at Chastain Middle School.

Bailey Magee's classWe made instant books and talked about the steps in the publishing process. We started with Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator and spent some time on the new fractal book.

More than a few hands went up when I asked if any of them liked to write. What a great group!