Meet Sarah Campbell—Another Fibonacci Author!

At some point all the kids in our social circle will get two books from me and my wife. One of course is Blockhead, my book about Leonardo Fibonacci. The other is Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Patterns in Nature, written by Sarah Campbell, with photos by Sarah and her husband Richard Campbell. (Boyds Mills Press).

Sarah Campbell

Sarah Campbell

As it happens, my book and Sarah’s share a fun history. They were both published around the same time in early 2010, and we cross-promoted both books on our websites at the time. I did three days’ worth of posts on Sarah’s work, which I’m rescuing from my old blog, consolidating, and posting here for the first time!

Growing Patterns received great reviews when it came out. Publishers Weekly said:

“Besides being eye-catching, the photographs ought to prove invaluable for visual learners... Kids should be left with a clear understanding of the pattern and curious about its remarkable prevalence in nature.”

To which I say YES! The reason I like giving both our books to kids is that mine is illustrated, and Sarah’s employs photography. Artwork is subject to the style of the artist, but realistic photography allows kids to easily count petals on flowers, etc. Photos depict exactly how kids will encounter the various Fibonacci numbers in nature.

Here’s the full interview I conducted with Sarah back in 2010—all in one place.

Tell us about Growing Patterns, and why you are excited about it?

Growing Patterns is about a simple number pattern that has some very interesting characteristics. Growing Patterns makes Fibonacci numbers accessible to the youngest readers. It does this in two ways: by using eye-catching photographs and by connecting the number pattern to flowers and other familiar things in nature.

Your first book told the story of a tiny carnivore, the Wolfsnail. How did you make the leap from snails to Fibonacci?

It’s really not that much of a leap. I was looking for another nonfiction topic to explore that would showcase my photography (and my husband’s.) We like to take photographs with a macro lens, which means we can show snails and other tiny things in larger-than-life pictures. I love the fact that there is a snail in the Growing Patterns book; it is there as a counter-example (i.e., a spiral that doesn’t show the Fibonacci sequence.)

What attracted you to Fibonacci numbers in nature?

I found it fascinating that the seemingly wild and unique world of plants and animals follows rules that correspond to the ordered world of mathematics. I am an inveterate pattern-seeker—in music, words, images, quilts, knitting, etc.—and I wanted to share this cool pattern with kids.

In your book trailer, you say that you thought you would have to travel to exotic places to find Fibonacci numbers. But did you have to, really?

No, I didn’t. I took all the photographs at my house or in my neighborhood. I had to buy several things in the book that don’t grow locally—like the pineapple and the nautilus shell. But they weren’t hard to find.

Growing Patterns by Sarah Campbell

Has anyone ever come up with a good explanation for why the pattern happens in nature?

Many different kinds of scholars, mathematicians and botanists, chief among them, have studied and continue to study this phenomenon.

How did you find what you ended up shooting? Did you look at other books for inspiration? Did you make any discoveries on your own?

I did lots of research. I looked at books and used online resources. I can’t say that I made any discoveries of Fibonacci numbers that hadn’t been catalogued before. I was convinced, however, that the sequence could be made accessible to young readers. I think that’s my contribution.

What was your favorite image to shoot?

My favorite images to shoot are the flowers; my single favorite is the peace lily. You can’t tell this from the tiny photograph in the book, but that lily was hanging in front of some crape myrtles with showy pink blossoms. The juxtaposition was lovely. What was hard was finding unique examples of the smallest flowers: flowers with one petal and two petals. In the end, we used two types of crowns of thorns to illustrate the number 2.

You are a teacher-instructor and a journalist. Can you tell us how you became a writer of children’s books?

I quit full-time journalism when my first son was born, but I knew I wanted to keep doing some kind of writing. After I had two more sons within three years, I found it hard to do journalism. At the same time, my reading habits changed radically. All of a sudden I was immersed in the world of children’s books. I decided I’d like to try my hand at writing for kids. I started by writing an article for Highlights for Children and then moved on to books.

You share the credit on this book and your last with your husband, Richard. How do you two divide the work that needs to be done to create a whole book?

I do the writing entirely by myself. We do the photography together. By this I mean that I take some of the photographs, he takes others, and we take some together. Some of the studio shots for Growing Patterns, such as the pineapple and the nautilus shell, and some of the action shots in Wolfsnail, required two sets of hands.

Can you give us a hint about what your next book will be?

I plan to write about a different tiny animal; also found around my house.

What can parents do to help kids explore Fibonacci patterns in nature?

Parents can encourage their kids to spend time outside. I also recommend giving kids bug boxes, magnifying glasses, binoculars, and cameras.

Are the walls of your house decorated with Fibonacci patterns?

Nope. My walls display lots of my sons’ artwork, photographs taken by friends and family, and some of my fabric art. Richard has a framed copy of the sunflower photograph and the Growing Patterns cover on the wall in his office at work.

How has knowing about the Fibonacci sequence affected your garden plan this year?

Our gardening hasn’t been affected yet by the Fibonacci sequence. Richard and I are working on a butterfly garden and we have raised beds for vegetables. Right now, I have seedlings of lettuce, kale, broccoli, spinach, etc. growing valiantly despite an unseasonably cold winter in Mississippi—including two snows!

Sarah later went on to write an equally charming book about fractals entitled Mysterious Patterns. The book follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, using clear photographs to illustrate this often-overlooked concept. I will often stagger the two in my gift-giving. If a child we know likes Fibonacci and Growing Patterns, the next time we see them, they get a copy of Mysterious Patterns.

You can find out more about this award-winning author on her website.

Check out Sarah’s trailer for her Fibonacci book here.

This post first appeared in slightly diffrent form on my old blog on March 1, 2010. Photo and trailer courtesy and copyright Sarah C. Campbell.

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