Thursday, March 4, 2010

Interview with Sarah Campbell

Welcome to my interview with Sarah Campbell. She is on a blog book tour to launch her new book Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. Join us at Lemuria Books on Saturday, March 6, from 10:00 am - 12:00 pm for a book reading and signing!

I know Sarah both personally and professionally because we share many common interests ranging from knitting and quilting to photography and children’s books. As a children’s librarian at St. Therese Catholic School in Jackson, Mississippi, I hosted Sarah for an author visit in 2008 with her first book Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator. Sarah’s presentation and interaction with my students was engaging, substantive, and thought provoking. Sarah is a both a thinker and a creator, and her love of the process of discovery shines through in all of her work.

Through her books or in person, Sarah is an artist who knows how to connect with children of all ages. She is an experienced collaborator who has worked with teachers on special projects involving writing, photography, and even quilting in local schools. Equally adept at teaching children about photography or the writing process, Sarah often shares how these two art forms interact in the making of a photo-illustrated picture book. Sarah is on the Mississippi Arts Commission's Mississippi Artist Roster for "Dramatic and Literary Arts."

Let’s ask Sarah some questions to find out more about how she uses photography to illustrate her picture books.

Q. Both Wolfsnail and Growing Patterns are nonfiction picture books illustrated with photographs. Who are photo/illustrators that have inspired you and/or influenced your work?

I got excited about possibly marrying my love of photography with my desire to write children's books when I was introduced to the work of Jill Krementz. I first got my hands on some of her photo essays with titles like How it Feels To Be Adopted and How it Feels When a Parent Dies. These featured black and white photographs with first person stories. Another big influence was Nic Bishop, especially Red-Eyed Tree Frog (written by Joy Cowley).

Q. There are 71 photos in your book (29 unique photos). Could you estimate how many photos you had to take in order to get the photos you needed to tell your story? What were the challenges in choosing the photographs for this book?

Richard and I estimate we took about 1,000 photographs to get the 29 we used in the book. We did our shooting in two stages. During the first stage, I was still discovering the story. We shot anything that might possibly fit in. We moved into the second stage after I had come up with the design (which doubled as the organizing structure for explaining the concept). At that point, the challenge became getting well composed, well lit photographs of a set of natural objects. The most difficult object to photograph was the pineapple.

Q. From looking at your blog and website, it is obvious that you take photos of many different types of subjects. You use photography to document and share all sorts of information from family and school activities, professional workshops, nature and gardening explorations, and your interests in sewing, quilting, and knitting. Do you have a favorite subject that you like to photograph?

Actually, Julie, I think you and I share a love for capturing learning. It brings me special joy to photograph kids in moments of concentration, enjoyment, and epiphany.

Q. Do you remember taking your first photograph? How did you learn photography?

I don't remember my first photograph. I learned from my mother and father, both of whom learned photography as a hobby and then went on to teach it (Mom, at a community arts organization, and Dad, at his university). I learned by shooting black and white film and developing it and printing photographs in our home darkroom.

Q. Do you have any advice for children (and adults) who are interested in learning photography?

Practice. Practice. Practice. Play around with shapes, color, and light. Browse photography magazines and books to find inspiration. Consider entering a contest. I won third place in an art contest with a photograph I took in high school. It made me think of my photography as art for the first time.

Sarah's advice to practice, practice, practice certainly rings true to me. If any young people reading this interview would like to enter a photography contest, this link is a good place to start.

As a teacher/librarian, I appreciate the teaching materials and curriculum connections that she prepares and makes available on her website to enhance reading her books in the classroom or at home. When first graders at my school discovered some tiny wolfsnails in a woodpile behind the school in the fall of 2009, Sarah's educational materials for Wolfsnail provided excellent fodder for further investigation and text to world connections. With the debut of Growing Patterns, I'm eagerly anticipating being outside with students so that we can look for Fibonacci numbers in the blooming flowers of spring. We might even have to plant our own Fibonacci garden!

At the end of March, Sarah and I will be trying out some new educational materials for Growing Patterns in a third grade classroom using photography, writing, and Fibonacci numbers. We will share the methods and results of this artist/teacher collaboration at a workshop for the International Reading Association's Annual Convention in April. The title of the workshop is "Seeing is Believing: Photography in Nonfiction." Sarah's editor at Boyds Mills Press, Andy Boyles, will also join us as a co-presenter.

Tomorrow, Dorraine Bennett of Dori Reads will host the Friday installment of Sarah's blog book tour. If you can't wait to see Growing Patterns in person, check out the book trailer! Today, I plan to share Growing Patterns with more of my students in the library.

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