Friday, March 5, 2010

An Interview with Sarah Campbell on Poetry Friday!

It's Poetry Friday, but it's also my turn to interview Sarah Campbell on her blog tour. Sarah's new book, Growing Pattern: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature, is a beautiful exploration of the connection between math and nature.

But first...

Before I post the interview, I want to share a poem I stumbled upon this week in my library wanderings. It is poetry Friday, after all. This poem is from another children's writer who loved nature and numbers and patterns, Barbara Juster Esbensen. Here, from her collection Echoes for the Eye, is a poem about...You guessed it. Fibonacci Numbers!

from "Spirals"

In summer gardens
yellow faces
to the sky
their stiff-crowned seeds
in flying spirals
clockwise and counter-
clockwise Count
the whirling 55 the
dizzy spinning 89 --
the rows and
rows of old Italian

And now, here's Sarah.

I'm sure every blogger has asked, but would you explain Fibonacci numbers to our readers?

Actually, you are the first to ask. Fibonacci Numbers are the series of numbers created when you start with 1 and 1 and then, in order to get the next number, you add the two previous numbers. So, 1 plus 1 equals 2. 1 plus 2 equals 3. 2 plus 3 equals 5. Do you get the idea? These numbers, then, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, … are called Fibonacci Numbers.

When and how did you learn about the concept?

I remember reading about and hearing about the concept about six years ago in a novel and on a documentary television program. (You can read a more detailed description of this on Elizabeth Dulemba's blog)

It's easy to see how this book could be used by many grade levels and across the curriculum. How would you suggest teachers use it in kindergarten to second grade classes? How about third to fifth grade? And middle school, too?

I'm glad you asked about this. I hope teachers of students at all levels will do hands-on activities with their students – both outside observing nature and inside with natural objects.


I have created two very simple printable sheets for teachers. One re-creates what I call the Fibonacci grid, which features prominently in the book's design, with empty boxes. I suggest teachers ask their students to fill in the squares with the appropriate numbers from the Fibonacci sequence and/or draw a picture of a flower with the requisite number of petals.

The second printable sheet is essentially a black-and-white reproduction of one of the book's pages. It shows the Fibonacci grid filled in with our photographs of flowers. The teacher would cut the grid apart and let students put it back together like a puzzle.


I am working on a photography lesson for this group. Each student would take a digital image of something outside. The student would then write a Fib poem (a six line, 20 syllable poem with a syllable count by line of 1/1/2/3/5/8: credit to Gregory Pincus) to accompany their photograph.
My friend Julie and I have designed a special accordion book for each student to make to display the photo and poem.

Middle School

I suggest teachers ask their middle school students to write a picture book to explain a math concept.

Have you worked on a teacher's guide?

I am indeed working on a teacher's guide. It will be ready very soon on my website.

Do you know what the AR level or Guided Reading Level is for the book?

I do not know. For my first book, Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator, the AR level is 4.4 and it is worth .5 points. It has appeared on summer reading lists for kindergarten through fourth grade. This shows an interesting paradox with my books. They include challenging words (which kicks up the reading level), but the challenging words are well supported in the text with images and context clues so teachers and librarians tell me they have many students in earlier grades who read the book with interest.

Can you give us examples of what you might include in a school visit focused on Growing Patterns?

I will read the book, share a multi-media presentation that includes a behind-the-scenes look at getting the photographs, and entertain questions from the students. If we have time and I am working with a small group, I like to get the students looking at some of the objects from the book (pine cones, nautilus shell) through tiny jewelers loupes and writing down their observations.

Many thanks to Sarah for taking the time to visit and answer my questions.


  1. Sarah's book teaches a fascinating concept. I loved the photographs in her book, Woofsnail: A Backyard Predator. I'm sure this new book is delightful.

  2. Thank you, Pat. I am having fun sharing the book. Thank you, Doraine, for having me as a guest on your blog.

  3. Thanks, Pat for stopping in.
    Sarah, It was a treat to host you and your new book. Can't wait for my autographed copy to arrive!