reading with kids

Growing Patterns Goes to Church

Growing Patterns at Sunday School on Red Rug

I shared Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature during the Sunday School hour at Wells Memorial United Methodist Church. I used to teach Sunday School to many of these children so it was great to be back among them with a new book. I read and then we examined some Fibonacci related objects from my basket: pinecones, shells of a nautilus, and a sand dollar. We used regular hand-held magnifying lenses and some Private Eye jeweler’s loupes. In the photograph above, taken by one of the teachers, the Rev. Keith Tonkel joins us for a brief discussion.

Local News Story on Website

I received permission to post a recent television interview on my website. You can check it out here.

I appreciate the help of Bob Burks, the Director of New Media for WLBT-Channel 3, the NBC affiliate in Jackson.

A Year of Reading Reviews Growing Patterns

Growing Patterns cover A Year of Reading reviewed Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. “Here’s another great pick for your mathematics library — a book about Fibonacci Numbers that is easy to understand! Campbell’s photos of single garden flowers whose petals follow the Fibonacci sequence, along with clearly stated text make this a book that can be shared with even very young children.”

Read the whole review here.

Letters from Kids

Here is a small sample of the wonderful packet of letters I got this week from students at the Martin Luther King Jr. Laboratory School in Evanston, Ill., a school I attended for a few months of second grade. Read about my visit and see photos here.

I also got a nice note from a teacher. The arrival of the packet gave me a good reason to update the feedback page of my website.

kids letters 1
kid letters 2
kids letters 3
kids letters 4

Kindergartners Pick Snails as Research Subject

Wolfsnail coverMy sister, Jessica, recently wrote to say that several kindergartners at her school (Girls Prep) had chosen snails as a research subject. She said they had read Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator and then had spent time on my website to help them think about how people research topics they know nothing about. Cool!

Meanwhile, Tricia Stohr-Hunt at Miss Rumphius Effect, recommended Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature for people looking to do some mathematical reading.

I spent several hours Monday at a school working on a video project. I’ll be wrapping that up tomorrow. On Thursday, I head to Sumrall Elementary School for a Mississippi Day celebration.

Reading Makes Everything Better

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?

Photography at St. Therese

My third grade colleagues spotted this bug for me

I spent an hour this morning taking photographs on St. Therese’s school grounds with third graders. We had 13 students with 5 cameras to share and two adults with a camera each. The kids ran for the grassy area with wildflowers. One of the students said: “I found a 4.” It took me a minute to realize that she meant a flower with four petals. Another said: “I found a five!” I had read Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature the previous day.

A Five

A Spiderwort

We were very excited to find this spiderwort, which is featured in Growing Patterns. It was this time last year that I was taking the final photographs for the book.

Lots of guesses about what this might be

And this

I’m guessing a sparrow

Typical Days?

Day 1

6-10:30 a.m. Rise, walk dog with Richard, prepare boys’ lunch, walk dog with friend, Pilates.

10:40 -11:05 a.m. Conversation with filmmaker (who happens also to be a friend) about script for book trailer. Glad to be working with a professional. Moving images and audio are way out of my area of expertise. Grateful for grant from state and local arts agencies that made it possible for me to hire professional filmmakers for my book trailer.

11:10-11:30 a.m. Shower.

11:35-11:55 a.m. Start blog post for later this week, featuring an interview with video.

12:00-1:00 p.m. Re-heat lunch and eat with Richard. Sneak downstairs to computer for a minute to email some links and a still photograph to filmmaker.

1:05-2:30 p.m. Rest. A little longer than usual because I was savoring the end of a fun novel, American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. (The cover art bothers me a tad; Alice Blackwell marries in a cotton two piece that her mother-in-law dismisses as a pioneer girl outfit; the dress on the cover is NOT that.)

2:35- 3:02 p.m. Put finishing touches on blog post.

3:02 p.m. Email from magazine editor. Needs phone conference on piece slated for August. Reply that I am free until 3:50 p.m. when I must collect two younger boys from school.

3:05 – 3:35 p.m. Tie three split chicken breasts around two onions and two sprigs of fresh rosemary. Rub with olive oil, more rosemary, and some thyme. Editor calls. Use cordless phones and headset to discuss magazine piece. Concerns must be answered. A potential re-write angle is discussed. Editor promises to email the potential new angle. I promise to think — and figure out a direction by noon next day.

3:45 p.m. Start oven preheating. Bundle up for unseasonably cold weather. Gloves, hat, scarf, fleece. Go to door to let my oldest son in. “Is it that cold inside?” he asks. G’s always a bright spot in my day.

3:50 p.m. Pick up younger boys at school. Conference with teacher about blazers that need to be purchased with booster club monies. I am the keeper of the booster club monies, but I forgot to bring the total. Her computer is down and the Blazer company’s phone line is busy. We agree to talk next day. I promise her we have enough money for 5 blazers — even though I don’t know how much money we have, nor the exact cost.

4:30 p.m. Home. Put chicken in oven. Peel white and sweet potatoes. Add to roasting pan.

4:50 p.m. Print potential re-write angle.  Call critique partner to see if she can brainstorm later. Make 6:30 p.m. appointment. Sit in living room chair to consider rewrite.

5 p.m. Place call to editor — even though it is an hour after close on the East Coast. Editor at desk. (They work long hours.) Convey my belief that rewrite angle is bad idea, but promise to try something later.

5:10 p.m Wash and trim asparagus for steaming. Cut the chicken while Richard makes gravy.

5:30 p.m Sit down to roast chicken, potatoes, steamed asparagus, and gravy.

5:55 p.m. Walk dog with Richard. One boy does dishes, one boy feeds dog and takes out trash, and one waters the plants.

6:30 p.m. Home just in time for call with critique partner. Not really much brainstorming. I’ve decided I can’t rewrite from proposed angle. Back and forth. Discuss a small bit of school business.

6:45 p.m. Sit at computer. Bring up final, edited version of magazine piece. Pull out a few research sources, search internet for more information. Become more firm in my position that proposed angle won’t work. Write email to editor. At a loss for how to proceed. Suggest scrapping article or pulling byline. Am out of ideas. Give morning schedule so editor can reach me.

7:45 p.m. Read to D from Shadow’s Edge.

8:30 p.m. Seek to connect with N about science fair project that is causing problems. He’s in no mood for it.

8:30 – 9:30 p.m. A little kitchen tidying, a little web browsing. Eat popcorn with nice, warm cup of tea. 10 p.m. Asleep.

Day 2 (Today)

Early routine same. (substitute recumbent bike and treadmill for water aerobics because pool heater is not working and water is COLD.)

6:54 a.m. Editor replies via email. Editor ready to throw in towel, too, but only temporarily. Will sub another article for August. Will work through issues somehow.

9:30 a.m.  Take model airplane to school so youngest son will have it for Science Olympiad after school.

9:45 a.m. Re-heat black-eyed peas prepared two days ago for today’s church lunch for the food pantry customers.

10 a.m. Shower.

10:50 a.m. Hand off black-eyed peas to friend who is attending lunch.

11 a.m. Prepare lesson on transferring digital photographs for 5th graders. Review script and time line from filmmakers. Field email query about macro lens. 12 noon. Eat reheated soup for lunch.

12:10 -3:45 p.m. Teach 5th graders. Computer glitch makes it impossible to transfer photos so we take more photographs. Meet with teacher after school.

3:50-4:10 p.m. Transfer students’ digital photographs to my computer.

4:15 p.m. Head to Post Office to send check for Blazers via Priority Mail.

4:50 – 5:20 p.m. Home. Brief chat with Richard about the day.

5:20 p.m. Take G to piano lesson. While he’s having lesson, run to library to get book.

6:10 p.m. Home to Richard’s tasty pasta salad (quinoa salad for me because I eat gluten-free).

Walk dog. Kids do chores. Blog. Review script with Richard. Read to Douglas. Sleep.

Growing Patterns is Here!

growing covOur two copies of Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature arrived today. The books are beautiful! The colors are bright, the pages are shiny, and the shape is a golden rectangle. After getting some positive feedback on using video on the blog, I decided that this would be a good day to use it again. You can watch the brief video below and then read on for more information.

From my early days of writing for children, I have always read what I was working on to kids. At first, it was my own. Then, I moved on to sharing with kids at my kids’ school. In addition to reading my stories and poems, I read all kinds of books to small groups and entire classrooms. I could tell from the kids’ reactions what was working and what was not. I learned, too, that kids are not willing to sit still for version after version of the same story. I learned to get my stories into pretty good shape before I shared and to read once and move on.

One of the spreads in Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator is in the book because of questions I got from kids when I went to schools with my Highlights article about wolfsnails. Kids always asked if wolfsnails eat worms. I created a scene in which a wolfsnail encounters a worm (and does not eat it) so that I could answer the question in the text.

With Growing Patterns I pushed my luck with a few of the young readers, asking them to read it aloud to me. I know they felt a little nervous, but I kept my mouth shut and tried not to be too obvious about the notes I was taking. I was watching for places where they stumbled over my awkward constructions or where they needed more clarification. Two second graders wrote out a page of questions for me. Many of the questions were about how I took the photographs or got interested in the pattern. But they also pointed out their favorite photographs and patterns. I am very excited about going back to their school this week and showing these now third graders the final product.

Thank you, everybody!

Mississippi Library Association Conference

MLA 09-7990I spent two very nice days this week at the Mississippi Library Association annual conference. Rick Bragg spoke on Thursday morning. He read from his latest book, The Most They Ever Had, a memior of the people in the milltown Bragg grew up in. I started reading it during the next break in the conference and finished it after I got home Thursday night. I really enjoyed it. He has such a way with words, managing to paint a complete picture through six or eight vignettes. One story of two women who met a seemingly impossible challenge (picking down and back on a very long row of cotton in one day) for two extra dollars was particularly good. I recommend this to people who are studying memoir or the use of detail to round out characters  or who just want a good read.

MLA 09-8001Nancy Opalko, children’s librarian at Oxford Public Library, introduced a panel discussion on greatstoriesCLUB, an American Library Association program aimed at putting books into the hands of underserved teens. Librarians can apply to launch a program (the deadline is Nov. 2) in their own community. Besides reading books with teens, some librarians expand the program to include visiting authors.

MLA 09-7994An author who has worked with several greatstoriesCLUB sites is Paul Griffin, a New Yorker who writes books for teenagers. He launched a “story jam” during his talk with a few lines about a librarian who received a letter containing a $100,000 donation and the promise of $900,000 more if the librarian agreed to meet the donor that night. The story was passed from person to person — with many zany twists — until a lbrarian wrapped it up in a most satisfying way. Griffin uses this exercise with teens in juvenile detention facilities to get them comfortable with storytelling as a bridge to writing. I am looking forward to reading Paul’s two books, Ten Mile River and Orange Houses.

MLA 09-7993Ken Waldman, who bills himself as the Alaskan Fiddling Poet, gave a talk on using poetry with kids. He incorporates music and movement into his very engaging presentation. In addition to his work as a traveling minstrel, he offers books, CDs, and cards. His talk prompted  an interesting discussion on the relative merits of rhyming in poetry. Waldman prefers to write without overt rhyme and encourages kids to write without thinking of rhyme as a constraint.

MLA 09-7986This was my first MS Library Association conference and I hope to return in future years. At lunch one day, I had a real treat. I had made plans to meet my friend Jackson S., a young reader who struck up a correspondence with me last year. He has found about a half dozen wolfsnails near his Hattiesburg-area home since he read Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator. I was happy to get his (positive) reaction to Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. He and his mom took me to lunch and we had a fun time talking about reading, writing and publishing.

Mara Villa, youth services supervisor, CMRLS Pearl Public Library

Mara Villa, youth services supervisor, CMRLS Pearl Public Library

Judy Card, youth services coordinator, First Regional Library

Judy Card, youth services coordinator, First Regional Library

Lainie Castle, Public Programs Office, ALA

Lainie Castle, Public Programs Office, ALA