Teaching Authors are pleased to present an interview and book give-away with our friend, Sarah Campbell. On a personal note, I met Sarah when she came to my very first book signing in our shared hometown, Jackson, Mississippi. Sarah and I got to know each other pretty well that day, given the number of people who did not attend the signing!
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of observing Sarah at work with her elementary school students. Their joy in the act of creating, and pride in their completed writing is a direct result of one very fine teaching author.
Sarah is not only a gifted teacher; she is an award-winning author as well. Her first book, Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator is a Geisel Honor Book.
A former journalist, Sarah is the mother of three sons, which she and her husband are raising in Jackson, Mississippi
Her new book, Growing Patterns, is set for release next month. To celebrate both Sarah's appearance on Teaching Authors, as well as the publication of her new book, we are giving away an autographed copy of Growing Patterns. To enter the drawing, see the instructions at the end of this post.
How did you become a Teaching Author?
When my first son was born, I left full-time journalism and took a part-time job teaching a journalism class and advising the student newspaper at a liberal arts college. After my third son was born (three-and-a-half years later) I wanted to use the little time I had for my professional self to write--not teach. At the time, I was writing magazine articles and corporate communication pieces.
When my third son went to school, I ventured into the classroom again, this time as a volunteer at my sons' elementary school. I was in the midst of transforming myself into a writer for the children's market. Whenever the students embarked on an interesting unit, I would turn up at school with lots of books (mainly from the public library) on the topic. Both the students and I read and read. I also photographed their classroom activities.
Currently, most of my teaching consists of short residencies, combining photography and writing. I typically partner with elementary school teachers to teach a project-based unit with their class. (For examples of these units, see www.sarahccampbell.com/Blog/category/Davis-on-the-map/ and www.sarahccampbell.com/Blog/category/its-alive-mcleod)
Whenever possible, I work with students in small groups of four to six, taking photographs, and writing captions and other informational text to accompany the photographs.
What is a common problem or question that your students have, and how do you address it?
A common problem is what to write. By this, I mean both the topic and the actual construction of a piece of writing (organizing information, word selection, etc.) Using photography is one of my favorite ways to address the "what to write" problem.
One of the first photography activities we do is to make paper frames. Students take them out to the playground and practice composing photographs. This is a hands-on way to illustrate the idea of narrowing a broad topic into something more specific--framed, close-up, detailed and in focus.
Another activity is a caption writing exercise. To ready my students to write informational text to accompany their photographs. I have them study the masters; the writers and photographers of National Geographic magazine. Students are split into groups and given a photograph, with the caption removed. Working together, they write their own one-sentence caption for the photo. When all groups have finished, each group presents their work. I then read the original magazine captions and the whole class participates in matching the National Geographic captions with the requisite picture.
A variation on this involves the students working alone, instead of groups. Ask each student to write a story based on their assigned photograph. (They may also choose a photo from the available, prepared collection.) This exercise takes several sessions to finish as the students ask themselves these questions:
What was happening before this picture was taken? What will happen next?
You are also a photographer. Tell us how photography informs your work as a writer.
In many ways, my first book Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator, landed in my lap. My son found two wolfsnails in our backyard. We then went on an odyssey of exploration that resulted in the book.
When I started thinking about what to write next, I knew I needed to find something I could photograph. The subject had to be aesthetically pleasing to me and accessible from my home base in Jackson, Mississippi. In my new book, Growing Patterns, that turned out to be flowers, pine cones and pineapples.
Photography also helps me with my decisions about storytelling. Growing Patterns is a picture book in the classic sense; the text alone cannot tell the story. It wasn't until I figured out how pictures could illustrate the building of mathematical patterns, that I was able to write the story.
At one time, I would have laughed at anyone who said that some day I would illustrate my own books. Now I have a hard time understanding how picture write books without also doing the art. It is a give-and-take process between the writing and the pictures. Sometimes a good picture will eliminate the need for a particular descriptive word. Other times, I need words to help the reader understand that what they see is two-dimensional and therefore, doesn't give them all the information they need.
I hope you will visit me at www.sarahcampbell.com The current opening page features a book trailer for Growing Patterns.
Thank you, Sarah, for bringing Teaching Authors into your classrooms.
Want to win a copy of Growing Patterns? Combining Sarah's use of photography in her books, and the fact that we still have one more week of the Olympics--send us the Olympian (summer or winter, past or present, living or dead) who you think would make a good subject for a children's photo-biography. Or if you already know a good biography of an Olympian, send that. Post your entry in the comments of today's blog interview
Be sure to include an email or blog address so we can contact you if you win. To qualify, your entry must be posted by 11 pm CST, Saturday, February 27. The winner will announced on Sunday.
Before entering our contests, please read our Giveaway Guidelines here
Good luck...and keep writing! (Pssst--I'm secretly glued to the Olympics...while writing, of course. Up next--ice dancing!)
Mary Ann Rodman