Search Results for: writing from nature

More Snow in Jackson

We awoke to a beautiful blanket of snow. And it’s still coming down. Though we’ve already had snow this year, it is still rare enough to prompt whoops of joy from my sons. Of course, the joy has something to do with the fact that school was called off. They don’t really have the proper gear for this kind of thing so they never stay out for long. I went along with my camera because I wanted to get some pictures of the snow and of them enjoying it. I thought about calling the grandparents, but I thought I’d better let them sleep in. Stomping around in the snow in my boots (the ones I bought a few years ago to attend Writing From Nature in Honesdale, PA, in April), reminded my of childhood trips to Cincinnati to visit my grandparents. We borrowed gear from cousins had lots of fun.

G winding up to throw at D




We've Got to Call our Friends!

A View from the Back


Fun Time at Jackson Zoo

Wolfsnail Storytime ZooI had fun this morning reading Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator to the storytime crowd at the Jackson Zoo. I showed them my newest animal — the Mediterranean House Gecko. I also taught them the correct way to use a hand magnifying lens — a skill I learned at the Writing From Nature workshop, sponsored by the Highlights Foundation. (Read about my WFN experiences here and here.

Wolfsnail Storytime Zoo-4G took the photographs. (He was babysitting so we brought along his two charges.) I always enjoy meeting new readers — especially those who share my interest in animals and plants. It was great to see my friend Jody there with her four children (some of whom I used to babysit). She was often the first person I celebrated with when I sold a story. One of her sons found a peacock feather so he used his turn with the magnifying lens to look at it up close.

Wolfsnail Storytime Zoo-2

Magnifying Lenses at the Ready

L "James Dean" M keeping his distance

L "James Dean" M keeping his distance

Which Way Up? — Photo Tuesday


Twyla Miranda, a participant in Writing From Nature 2009, took this picture of me while I was taking pictures in the woods of Boyds Mills. Richard noticed that I had the camera turned “wrong side up.” He can’t understand why I constantly flip back and forth between the two options for taking vertical shots. In the case of the D200, it seems particularly perverse because it has an extra button positioned for taking vertical photographs.


One of my regular readers said the photo in my previous post made her wonder what was surrounding the image I actually posted. Here is a shot with the scene from slightly further back. You can see the moss, the nascent Canada Mayflower (False Lily of the Valley), some flowers from a red maple (in the curve of the brown leaf at the left), and some fallen twigs. I posted a photo gallery from Writing From Nature on my website.

Wolfsnail Update: I learned when I returned from Pennsylvania that Wolfsnail has been nominated in the nonfiction category for the 2010 Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award. This is sponsored by SLAYS (School Libraries and Youth Services) a division of the North Dakota Library Association.

Walk Through the Woods


We went out twice this morning: first, we scattered from the house into all directions to do an exercise called event mapping; second, we did a guided walk with the forester who manages the Meyers family land. I took some pictures along both walks. Ferns are all over this place right now and they look very different depending on the stage they’re at. This one attracted me because it was so skinny and contrasted nicely with the shapes and colors around it. I guess it could even be a candidate for the new book, which includes a fern at the fiddlehead stage.


I first photographed this type of moss two years ago when I was here at my first Writing From Nature workshop. This time I loved the juxtaposition of the pine needles with the curly leaves of the moss. I feel limited in my ability to “see” these photos I’m posting because I’m using my tiny netbook and I’m unable to crop and adjust my images in the way I typically do. Once I get home and do my usual processing, I’ll post some of the same images for comparison.


I’m always looking for interesting shapes. I think this resulted from a worm boring between the bark and the tree’s core. I started my walk this morning with my regular lens but I swapped it out pretty quickly for the macro lens. One of the participants here talked about coloring her journal page with lots of green because it’s cheerful. I seem to be drawn here to the places where I can highlight the green in the midst of the winter’s gray and brown. Editor’s Note: I have replaced the images with cropped, edited versions. It is so nice to be able to see them at full size and to be able to massage the exposure and crop.

Practice, practice, practice


I’ll be in Boyds Mills, Pennsylvania, this week at Writing From Nature, a workshop presented by the Highlights Foundation. I will be presenting a session titled “Photographs + Stories = Winning Nonfiction.” Two years ago, when I was in the throes of writing and photographing Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator, I attended the workshop and found it invaluable. When I am not presenting, I’ll be writing, journaling, taking photographs, and learning from other faculty and participants. I’m confident that if I keep on showing up with a curious mind and eye, I’ll find another book in our beautiful, natural world.


I’ll be taking the Nikon D200, which is the camera Richard typically uses. We got the Nikon D70 first and I had become accustomed to it by the time we got the D200. I haven’t really wanted to muddy the waters by trying to learn a new set of controls. However, I’m grabbing this opportunity to get to know the D200 better. It is the only camera I’ll be bringing along. I re-read (re-skimmed) the manual this afternoon and then took it out for a spin in the yard. I wanted to get a feel for the controls. So far, so good. As you can see, I decided to take some pictures of our nascent garden. You can see the progress of the cabbage. Here’s how it started. We got the cabbage in the ground late so I’m not sure it will form a head — though the curvature of this leaf suggests it might.
Our first edible harvest was green onions. We grew these from onion sets; we needed to thin the original planting so we ate them as green onions. Yum!

Just in case we needed evidence of the persistence of grass, here it is. We placed weed blocking fabric under the soil in our raised beds, but the grass is still poking through — especially on the edges. We’ll have to weed.sarah-d200-9479
This is our double-deep bed; it has onions, beets, and carrots in the first three rows. The final row has a tomato and a melon, which we hope will grow up the trellis. With the cage on top, this reminds me of a coffin.
I set the camera on the rail to take this shot. I like the lines.


I was experimenting, again, with this shot. I used the bracketing feature on the D200 to take 7 frames with 7 different exposures. Richard used photomatix software to create one image from the 7. Images like this are called high dynamic range images or HDR. It has a kind of other worldly affect.

Five Key Takeaways from National Conference for Kids Book Creators

The most exciting thing I learned at the recent national conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is that the evidence continues to mount that young readers crave high quality nonfiction — especially of the expository kind, which is the style of my most recent two books. Melissa Stewart, a friend and mentor who writes nonfiction, too, has spent months compiling research from various academic studies. I got to hear her talk about this firsthand, but she has also generously laid it all out on her blog Celebrate Science. I’ve linked to a post with a big bunch of research citations, but many of her posts are relevant, so plan to spend some time digging into it.

Spending time listening to the best practitioners of one’s craft is inspiring. The mainstage panel on nonfiction included Deborah Heiligman, Barbara Kerley, Jason Chin, and Candace Fleming. All talked about how much research they did just to get to the point where they had identified the “vital idea.” Having chosen a focus often meant that much research had to be set aside and new research had to be done to fill in around the vital idea. I had so many moments where I felt like I knew exactly what they were talking about that I tweeted this:  Nonfiction nirvana. Inspiring workshops by Asked why primary sources: “I want to meet people in their own words.” asked why NF, “The world is so interesting, I just want to learn as much as I can and share it.” My peeps, y’all.

People expect an author/illustrator of expository books about math to be … well, not like me. Several people who stopped by my signing table expressed surprise at the woman behind Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature. Apparently, I’m a little more outgoing and gregarious than they expect. And, if they probe a little deeper than the surface they discover that I am only good at writing about math because I am NOT a natural mathlete. I come by my understandings by reading lots of explanations written by better mathematicians than me. And then I read a lot more explanations. Eventually, I get to where I can explain it to someone who started where I did. Rather than “write what you know,” my mantra is “write what you want to understand.”

Every industry professional — agent, editor, art director — is swamped with submissions. Every single one has more material coming in than they can possibly handle. This means we must rely on the wider community of writers and artists to help us get our work into its best possible shape — before we submit. There is no shortcut for putting in the work — even for the well-published among us. As Kevin Lewis, an agent with Erin Murphy Agency, and Alexandra Penfold, an agent with Upstart Crow Literary, put it: “Don’t jump precipitously. Wait a beat.”  “You only get fresh eyes once.”

Finally, I spent a lunch hour with #kidlitwomen organizers strategizing about ways to push for equal treatment for women and for all people from marginalized groups in children’s publishing. If you want to get involved in or follow this important conversation, please check out the kidlitwomen group on Facebook. A first step we identified is to gather data documenting disparities. These include unequal pay for the same work; fewer marketing dollars put behind work by or about women/girls/other underrepresented people, etc.

My trip to Los Angeles for the SCBWI Summer Conference was paid for in part by a grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission. The MAC is funded by the Mississippi Legislature and by the National Endowment for the Arts, which is in turn funded by Congress. I am grateful for this public support of the arts. My thanks go in particular to my state representative, Christopher Bell; my state senator, David Blount; my U.S. House Rep. Gregg Harper; and my two U.S. Senators, Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Horn Book Gives Mysterious Patterns Strong Review

mysterious patterns coverMy Horn Book magazine arrived yesterday with the review for Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature. It brought a big smile to my face.

“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).

Back-to-Back Conferences

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 AstonSallie WolfDebbie 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.

Mysterious Patterns Big Splash at NSTA

Richard and I had a great time at the annual convention of the National Science Teachers Association in Boston. We signed at least 80 books for teachers, professors, and science specialists. Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature got lots of love!


On Saturday, I was part of a session called “A Real-Life Page Turner: Award-winning Trade Book Authors Share Their Research Strategies.” As always I began by talking about Wolfsnail. We had about 40 participants who rotated through three tables for 15-minute mini sessions. A group of professors of literacy and science education put the session together.

dr. saul

Dr. Wendy Saul opened the session with a discussion of why books remain important, especially in nonfiction.

mp in session
Here I am talking about the page in Mysterious Patterns where the first explanation of fractals comes.
other groups
A look at the other groups’ tables.
amy broemmel
Here I am conferring with Dr. Amy Broemmel, an early literacy expert at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She was my table partner for this session, and will be a co-presenter with me and Jessica Crosby-Pitchamootoo at the International Reading Association annual conference in New Orleans in May.

In addition to presenting and signing books, I attended a number of great sessions, including:

Asking, Imagining, Arguing: Using Books to Provide Examples of Science Practices in Action (Broemmel, Rearden)

NSTA Press® Session: The Authors’ Picks! Teaching Science Through Trade Books (Royce, Morgan, Ansberry)

Sense-of-Place Writing Templates: Connect Your Students’ Past Experiences with Science AND Literacy! (Clary)

Using Writing to Motivate Students to Learn Science (Caukin)

Connecting Science, Engineering, and Literacy in an Elementary Classroom (Laurier, Denisova)

While I was attending sessions, Richard was hanging out with Graeme at MIT. We shared three suppers in a row. It was nice!

Guest Posting at Elizabeth Dulemba’s Blog

Today, I offer tips on finding and working with experts when you are writing nonfiction for children. My post appears on the blog of children’s author/illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba, a friend from SCBWI’s Southern Breeze region. I hope you’ll click here to read the post. You could win a free copy of Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature.

Elizabeth has a new novel out next month called A Bird on Water Street. I read an advance copy and I think she did a masterful job of exploring the environmental impacts of resource mining through the eyes of boy growing up in Appalachia.

Physically, I am in Boston for the annual convention of the National Science Teachers Association. I will present in a session titled, “A Real-Life Page Turner: Award-winning Trade Book Authors Share Their Research Strategies” and then Richard and I will sign copies of Mysterious Patterns. I’ll post pictures when I get back home.



Visit to New York

Next week Sarah will be traveling to New York to make a few school visits.  The first visit she’ll be making will be to The Dalton School, where she will be speaking to first graders about Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator.  The First Graders at The Dalton School are actually familiar with Sarah’s work already because Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature is a part of their curriculum! Last year, some first graders did the Fibonacci Folding Book project.

Sarah will then be at the Girls Prep Charter School in the Bronx. She’ll be spending a few days there working with second graders on writing non-fiction books.  They will be exploring the work of an author, specifically tying in how authors and illustrators choose their topics, how to write with a purpose in mind, and how to put one’s research into their own words. For this presentation Sarah will be highlighting Wolfsnail. Also at Girls Prep, Sarah will also be working with the fourth grade writing club, doing the fractal pop-up book project we taught at St. Luke’s in Baton Rouge.

We’ll certainly miss Sarah here down South, but it will be exciting to hear about her time in New York!