Visualizing Math Stories at NCTM12

A little less than a month ago, I presented at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Annual Conference in Philadelphia. Along with Beth West, the International Baccalaureate coordinator at Davis Magnet IB Elementary School, I taught a workshop on using photographs to illustrate math stories.
beth and sarah at nctm12Regular readers of the blog will have been following our efforts to pilot this work at Davis this Spring. Read about it here. And here.

We had a great group of teachers at our session. We also had help from Andy Boyles, my editor at Boyds Mills Press (and Highlights). He took many of these pictures, and kept the slideshow(s) going while Beth and I alternated with teaching.

group work during sessionworking on stickiesdiscussionteachers reviewing sample booksreviewing kids books

Using Digital Photography to Illustrate Math Stories

I’ve been so busy with students I haven’t had much time to blog. We are in the final stage of our bookmaking, and the books look great. The third graders did a terrific job!

six books on desk

Students created stories in the broad categories of patterns and measurement. We had six groups of students. Four groups had four students each, and two groups had three students each. The groups worked together to brainstorm, write, storyboard, and take photographs.

After an initial visit, during which I talked about my Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature (read about it here), Beth West worked with the students to talk about what all math stories need. Together, she and the students developed a checklist. The group writing was a challenging part of this project. In order to facilitate the process, Beth and I worked with each group for about an hour — to help integrate disparate drafts and press for coherence in the math methods being deployed.

s writing

We spent the next full school day, working individually with groups to storyboard the photographs and then take them.

s and f talking about storyboard

After the photographs were taken, we asked the groups to self-select for four tasks: chartist (to create any chart needed for an illustration on good paper), folder (to make the instant book out of the good paper), assembler (to order, trim, and glue photographs into the book), and scribe (to write the final text into the book). So, on our final two work days, we worked with groups according to their tasks. All six folders made their books at the same time. All the chartists made charts at the same time, etc.

d making chart

m doing chartf foldingcutting

g making a bookt assemblingj assemblingk taking s through booka gluingk pressingb helping select text for pagesa and t writing final textt writingt explaining text choicesj writing final textb helping jmrs L enjoying the booksThis final picture is of the classroom teacher, Mrs. Lieb. She has been very patient with Beth and me as we invaded her classroom. Here she is enjoying reading one of the books for the first time. Thank you, Mrs. Lieb.

Patty Crosby took all but two of the photographs in this post. She also had the task of capturing the whole project on video. Thank you, Mom!

Thank you, also, Beth.

Children’s Book Festival Featured Speakers – Part I

The highlight of the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival is typically the speech given by the winner of The University Southern Mississippi Medallion, an award for distinguished service in the field of children’s literature. This year’s award went to T.A. Barron, the author of 30 plus books. You can read a transcript of his speech here.
TA Barron
In addition to his writing, Barron has created a prize to highlight the heroic work undertaken by teenagers. Read more here.
Patty Gauch
During his speech, Mr. Barron recognized his longtime editor, Patricia Lee Gauch. Later in the day, she engaged in an interesting back-and-forth with Roger Sutton, editor of the Horn Book. When Gauch prevailed upon the librarians gathered in the room to keep standards up. He replied: “But it’s you people (editors) who need to stop those (poor quality books), not us!” Gauch is retired, but noted such terrible manuscripts never got by her.

Roger Sutton at his chalk board

Another of my favorite Sutton quotes: “Kids have always fallen in love with terrible books. But they can be led to others.” Led carefully, however. “In my fantasy library, no librarian ever says to me ‘if you like this, let me give you a good book.’ ”
David Diaz

This is David Diaz, a Caldecott-winning illustrator. He gave us a look at his process during one lunch session.

dd 1dd 2

dd 3
audience 1
aud 2

Later the same day, Diaz spoke at Oddfellows Gallery in Downtown Hattiesburg about Golden Kite Golden Dreams, an exhibit of original art from award-winning children’s book illustrations.

david diaz at gkgd
Ellen Ruffin introducing Diaz
Claudia and Jo
The Southern Breeze region of SCBWI partnered with USM, the Hattiesburg Arts Council, and Oddfellows Gallery to bring the exhibit to Hattiesburg. Claudia Pearson and Jo Kittinger (pictured above) are co-regional advisers for Southern Breeze.
guests 2
SCBWI friends

Growing Patterns Review on A Fuse #8 Production

cover with geiselAll 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.

growing patterns coverWith 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.

Elizabeth BirdI 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.”

St Therese kids reading Growing Patterns“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!

Book Party for St. Therese Authors

Today I attended a book party for the St. Therese Catholic School fourth, fifth, and sixth graders who made Fibonacci Folding Books. Click here to read about the pilot project we did earlier this spring with St. Therese third graders.

Librarian Julie Owen stacked all the books on her display steps. The impact upon entering the library was impressive.
Stack of Fibonacci Books

In addition to listening to the authors read their work, we enjoyed fresh fruit on skewers, speared in Fibonacci patterns. (This was Julie’s idea and it was the perfect finale for a fabulous project.)
skewers and fruit for fibonacci
Students Make Fibonacci Treats

The Secret World of Walter Anderson

hbass-210-Secret_worldMy friend, Hester Bass, wrote an extraordinary picture book biography of Walter Anderson, a great American artist who did most of his work in Mississippi. Publisher’s Weekly called the The Secret World of Walter Anderson, published by Candlewick Press, “a powerful tribute to the lengths artists will go for their passions.” A starred reivew in Kirkus said it was “a gorgeous chronicle of a versatile southern American artist.”

The story is illustrated by E.B. Lewis; an additional 8-page author’s note gives more details about Anderson’s life and includes photographs of his paintings, linocuts, and decorations on pottery. I interviewed Hester last month at the Writing and Illustrating for Kids conference put on by the Southern Breeze regional chapter of SCBWI. Click on the play button below to hear why Hester wrote the book and to hear her read an excerpt.

Get the Flash Player to see this content.

Hester is heading to Mississippi next week for a brief tour that will include stops in Jackson and Vicksburg. hbass-210-Bass_30-72dpiShe’ll be signing books at the Mississippi Museum of Art on Saturday, Nov. 14; Lemuria bookstore on Sunday, Nov. 15; and she’ll be doing a school visit at my kids’ school, Power Academic and Performing Arts Complex, on Tuesday, Nov. 17. You can catch her in Vicksburg at Lorelei Books on Monday, November 16. Click on Hester’s website or on the venue’s links to check times for the public events. Hester, who once delivered singing telegrams, is an engaging performer and her book would make an excellent gift for the kids, teachers, and art lovers on your Christmas list.

Please let me know if you like the video interview. I am experimenting with using more video on my blog. I’d like to use more video to show my work process with photography. Let me know what you think.

More Fall Conference News

WIK09-7933Gayle Brown, art director, at Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, walked writers and illustrators through the publishing process: from a manuscript’s arrival on the editor’s desk through to publication. Brown was among speakers at Writing and Illustrating for Kids (WIK), which  is put on each year in Birmingham by the Southern Breeze region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Brown showed examples of “in-process” drawings by illustrators, including one book dummy that had little more than line drawings.river9780802853028_m “If we hadn’t worked with this illustrator before or knew her work, this would have made me very worried.”The sparsely illustrated dummy had tons of purple sticky notes attached to it; I don’t know if those were the illustrator’s notes to Gayle or Gayle’s notes to the illustrator.
lords prayer9780802851802_mSome of the books she showed us were: A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, a Caldecott Honor Book, by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet; The Lord’s Prayer with illustrations by Tim Ladwig. She told us to look for a book that will be out this spring called Beatitudes by Carole  Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Ladwig.

That’s all for today. More conference news tomorrow.

Wolfsnail update:

My friend Julie’s children found a wolfsnail near their Jackson home over the weekend. You can read about it here.

Color on a rainy day

pitcher plant

pitcher plant

It’s my birthday and my 250th blog post so I decided I needed some pretty pictures to brighten a dreary day. My yard is very, very green because of all the rain. When I got back from walking the dog I noticed dozens of mushrooms across the front lawn. I don’t know the names of any of them. I will have to learn how to identify mushrooms. If you look very closely, you can see one has a spider crawling across it. I was shooting with our brand-spanking-new Nikon D700, but I was too lazy to put on the macro lens.

It’s not as if I need an excuse to take photographs of flowers, but I spent a very nice hour or so yesterday reading and enjoying The Metamorphosis of Flowers by Marie Perennou and Claude Nuridsany. It was inspiring. My parents lent me the book. (Aside from being glad to have them in town, it is fabulous to have their library in town as well.) Perennou and Nuridsany are the authors of Microcosmos, the book that inspired the movie. Lovely, lovely photographs and beautiful writing.

very gelatinous

very gelatinous

looks like a nut

looks like a nut

see the spider?

see the spider?

magnolia seed pod

magnolia seed pod

okra blossom

okra blossom





Mississippi Visual Artist Roster

MAClogo2007I learned yesterday that my application to join the Mississippi Arts Commission‘s artist roster as a visual artist was approved. Last year at this time I joined the roster as a literary artist, but because I offer both writing and photography presentations to schools, I decided to apply as a photographer also. This way schools and organizations may use MAC grant funds to pay for up to half of my presentation fee. I had to pass muster with a professional panel on each art form individually. I felt and still feel that a picture book creator should be allowed to submit words and pictures together. I believe that mastery in my art form includes mastery of the way images and text work together.

That being said, I am now on the roster in both categories so schools and organizations will have access to grant funds whether they choose to hire me to present and teach on writing or photography. The next application date for mini-grants this year is Nov. 2, 2009. I appreciate the work the commission and its staff do to support artists and arts instruction in schools.

River Otter

This photo of river otters appeared in the Look at the … feature of the July issue of Highlights High Five magazine. You can find this feature inside the back cover of the magazine. Richard and I have three more images in upcoming issues.

One of my goals this year is to learn more about photoshop. I followed a tutorial to create art images from three photographs I took last year. I like the bottom one best. What do you think?

"painted" spiderwort

"painted" spiderwort

"painted" five petals

"painted" five petals

"painted" purple

"painted" purple

Book Bites for Kids — Blog Talk Radio

On Monday, I was a guest on  Book Bites for Kids, a talk radio show hosted by Suzanne Lieurance, director of the National Writing for Children Center. During the half-hour interview, we talked about how I wrote Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator and how Richard and I took the photographs that illustrate it. You can hear the entire interview here. As soon as the new, improved website is ready to “go live,” I’ll post a link to the interview there. We had less than a minute to talk about Growing Patterns (the Fibonacci book); the half hour flew by.

fibonacci-14Speaking of Growing Patterns, I checked in last week with my editor. We talked about a few small changes and then he sent the text on to copy editing. The art department has all the photographs. As soon as the copy editor finishes, the art director will design and layout the book. I can’t wait to see it! This flower is called a Spiderwort. I love the color of the petals and how it contrasts with the color of the stamens. This is my photo Tuesday offering; it’s from the new book.