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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sarah Campbell's GROWING PATTERNS


I am very excited about Sarah Campbell's new GROWING PATTERNS, because I learned about the ratios she discusses in her new book back in college. Why would an artist need to know these things? Because these ratios are the basis of good design and a mathematical explanation of why some things look good or right to us when other things don't. It's a complete overlap between science and art. Gotta love it!
     I asked Sarah some questions about her new book...

Q. You took a complicated idea and presented it in such a simple and beautiful format. I wish your book existed when I was first learning about the concept of Fibonacci Numbers and the Golden Ratio. What turned you onto the subject?

A. Thank you, Elizabeth. Many adults who have read this book have said they now feel that they really understand Fibonacci numbers and how they relate to spirals, where before they just had a vague idea. That makes me really happy.

(How I got turned on to the subject)

I remember two references: a television special on PBS (I think) that mentioned a special number pattern that kept turning up in nature, and Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code. After I read the novel, I went to the library to find out more and checked out a book called The Fabulous Fibonacci Numbers by Alfred Posamentier. That was about six years ago. Then, two years ago, I was talking with an art director at an SCBWI conference about what I might do next, after Wolfsnail. Just talking off the cuff, I said I'd love to do something on patterns in nature. “What are those numbers called?” she mused aloud. Fibonacci, I said, and it clicked. I was so excited I called my husband and told him I knew what the next book would be. I stopped on the way home from the conference to buy a copy of Posamentier's book, and we were off.

Q. You (and your husband) are the photographer for GROWING PATTERNS as well as the author (I love the images). Did you hit any special challenges on this book?

A. Our biggest challenge is what you alluded to in your first question: how to take a complicated idea and present it simply. One of the things that made Wolfsnail work well was that, though it was nonfiction, it told a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and lots of action. Unlike the images in the Wolfsnail book, which show that action, the images in Growing Patterns are fairly static. We weren't telling a story, per se, but explaining a concept. So, the challenge was to find a way to use the photographs that would draw the reader into the story (in an interactive way) and help pull the reader along. I was about a year into the process when I hit upon the idea of using what I call the Fibonacci grid as the major design principle. This is the set of boxes that spirals out from 1 up to 8. Each box frames a photograph of a flower with the requisite number of petals. We use those in counting, in adding, in providing a visual reference to relative size, and then to show the spiral shape at the end. The fact that the photographs get larger and that the sequence keeps growing helps propel the reader forward.

Q. Like your first book, WOLFSNAIL: A BACKYARD PREDATOR, GROWING PATTERNS has enormous educational appeal. Do you have suggestions on who can best use this book and how?

A. As soon as I had rough draft copies of Growing Patterns, I started sharing them with students – when I was out on school visits for Wolfsnail and in some of my short term artist residencies. Students as young as kindergarten enjoy puzzling out the pattern. They count and add along with me and they all say “Wow!” when I turn to the page that shows the pinecones. There is an explicit invitation on the last page of the book for readers to go outside and find Fibonacci numbers, spirals, or other patterns in their own environment. I hope teachers will do that with students. I hope they will also ask students to create their own books explaining other math concepts they are learning. I'd love to see some of those books.

Q. I know you were a hit in schools with WOLFSNAIL. What will you do to share GROWING PATTERNS?

A. I love visiting schools and sharing my work with students. I always tailor my presentations to the age of the students. Younger students are keen to get their hands on whatever is in my book – snails, flowers, pine cones, shells, etc. I often bring (or ask teachers and librarians to have) magnifying lenses. Older students want to do that, but they also want to know more about the writing. Depending on how much time I have with students, we'll do some of the activities I've developed that use digital photography to teach writing.

Q. You have two books published so far, but you already seem to have a pattern (ha!) of sharing unusual and interesting aspects of nature. What else do you find curious and do you have another interesting book in the works?

A. I want to write another “critter” book. I have two animals in mind and I think I know which one I'll do first. If you watch my blog, you'll probably see some photographs of the new critter popping up. I also am working on a picture book manuscript that would not be illustrated with photographs. This is new territory for me, but I am finding it a good sort of challenge.

Thanks Sarah - I'll be watching!

Good news! GROWING PATTERNS received a great review in Publishers Weekly!

Sarah is officially on her Blog Book Tour. You can also go learn more at these blogs:
Feb 22: Teaching Authors
Feb 5: Writing Snacks
March 1: Blockhead Blog by Joseph D'Agnese (Q&A)
March 2: Irene Latham (Video Interview)
March 3: Elizabeth Dulemba (Q&A)
March 4: My Log Cabin Life by Julie Owen (Book Trailer Contest)
March 5: Dori Reads by Doraine Bennett (Q&A)
March 6: Sarah Campbell (Richard Interview)

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