Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Giveaway and Interview with Guest Author, Sarah Campbell

    The 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.
     From my own writing, it wasn't much of a leap to start co-creating books with the students, kindergarten through third grade.  I wrote grants for money to cover the expense of printing and binding the books, as well as a small stipend for myself.
     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  and
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.

As a writer, I use photography to help me with topic selection. 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  The current opening page features a book trailer for Growing Patterns.

     Thank you, Sarah, for bringing Teaching Authors into your classrooms.

     Contest requirements:
     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


Scotti Cohn said...

Great interview! I am inspired by the idea of using photographs that I take to illustrate a picture book (thereby becoming an author-illustrator)!

Michelle Sussman said...

My 7-year-old daughter can't get enough of Lindsey Vonn right now. I'd like to see a book filled with photos of her skiing. :)

mary ann rodman said...


How great that Sarah's interview has inspired you. I'll be interested in what you choose for a subject. Best of luck.
Mary ann

mary ann rodman said...

Your daughter has great taste! Lindsay Vonn is exactly who I was thinking of when I was thinking of contest ideas. Just the image of her slamming down a mountain...well, I think it would be terrific. Not only is Lindsay a great athlete, she is an example of some one who perseveres despite pain, injury and disappointment.

Sarah Campbell said...

I think the women's 4 x 100 relay team of 1968 deserve a picture book biography. Runners were: Margaret Bailes, Barbara Ferrell, Mildrette Netter, and Wyomia Tyus. I should check into what's available in archival photographs.

I'm glad others are getting inspired to do photo-illustrated books. I think they're great! (but then I would.)

Thanks for having me, Mary Ann, and other teaching authors. I love your blog.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Kids are so lucky today-to have books like Growing Patterns on the Fibonacci sequence! I'd never heard of it till I was all grown up (and working as a sub teacher in a 7th grade math classroom!)

As for interesting Olympic athletes, I'd put pen to paper to write Apolo Ohno's story. Or maybe that's just me thinking like a 7th grader :-)

Robyn Hood Black said...

Great interview, Mary Ann, and I can't wait to see the book, Sarah!

I'd toss in a vote for Apolo - and maybe for the young Japanese pairs skater who left her home and country to train with a particular coach - in Russia,
I think? Mary Ann, you probably know the story!

StrictlyTopSecret said...

What an amazing website you've provided! As an aspiring children's author, I was thrilled to read of it in the 2010 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market, and couldn't get to my computer fast enough to check it out. Thanks for your generosity and willingness to offer guidance to "n00bs" !

One of the newer Olympic sports deserving of some non-fiction coverage is "Curling". Not only is this sport do-able by children who are not particularly athletic, it also has the distinct honor of being "new & weird" (always a winner with kids). Perhaps an NF children's book on the "First American Olympic Curling Team" (with separate chapters for the 2010 men's and 2010 women's team USA members) would be just the ticket.

Thanks again for sharing your expertise!


Carmela Martino said...

Sarah, we're honored to have you here on TeachingAuthors. And I enjoyed watching the trailer for GROWING PATTERNS on your blog.
Lots of great entries for our contest already. But, M, if you want to be entered in our contest, you need to provide an email address--there isn't one listed on your StrictlyTopSecret profile.
Good luck, everyone!

mary ann rodman said...

Your suggestion of the 1968 4 x100 women's relay team is excellent. Of the four women mentioned, the only I know is Wyomia Tyus. This sounds like four women who need to be celebrated, for sure!

mary ann rodman said...

Of course I know the name of Japanese pairs skater who left her country so she could work with a renowned Russian pairs coach. Her name was Yuko Kawaguchi. Since she renounced her Japanese citizenship for Russian and competes on their Olympic team, her name has been Russianized (if that's a word)Yuko Kavaguti. (I am not a walking daughter competes in figure skating, so we know this stuff.

Kara Laughlin said...

I have to go with Shaun White--watching his runs on the half-pipe brought out all my motherly protective instincts as he flew several stories up in the air for each trick. Add to that the fact that he was skateboarding as a four-year-old, and I think we've got a great biography for middle grade reluctant readers.

Here are some photos of his gold medal runs:

Also--I'm very excited that my eight-year-old mathematician/scientist has a book on Fibonacci numbers to check out. A kid can only memorize pi to so many digits before he needs to move on, you know?

mary ann rodman said...

I am not eligible for this contest, but I can't resist adding my two cents...I am a fan of the Boys on Blades--Apollo Ohno, Shani Davis, and Evan Lysacek!

Carmela Martino said...

Me, too, especially Evan Lysacek, since he is a local boy who's made the big time!

Doraine said...

Nice interview. I'm looking forward to seeing the book!

I'll cast my vote for Debi Thomas, African American figure skater back in 1988 who went on to become a doctor. She was inducted into the Figure Skaters Hall of Fame in 2000.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Awesome interview, as always, ladies! No need to enter me. I'm dropping in to say thanks for the e-mail. I've got this posted at Win a Book for you.

mary ann rodman said...

I can't believe I forgot Debbie Thomas. When she lost the gold to Katerina Witt in '88 (the Battle of the Carmens) my winter was ruined!
It's great to read all these wonderful story ideas...keep'em coming! You have until Saturday.

Mason Canyon said...

I'm going back a ways and say Mark Spitz would be an interesting subject for a book. I remember watching him win all of his medals and it was awesome.

Winning Readings said...

Michelle Kwan is at the top of the list... :)

We posted about this giveaway at Winning Readings:

janemaritz at yahoo dot com

Sarah Campbell said...

Hey Mary Ann,
I suggested that 1968 team because I met and got to know Mildrette Netter (and her daughter, Gyra) when I was in junior high. I've kept it in the back of my mind (file).

Anonymous said...

My nieces would love one about Lindsey Vonn.

ebeandebe at gmail dot com

apple blossom said...

Luge ~ Anne Abernathy. I just read a short little ditty about her. Interesting.

ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see one about alpine skier Bode Miller, because he's from my home state (it would be really popular at my library). To my knowledge, the only biography written about him is geared toward adults. Now that he's won his first gold medal, maybe a photo biography is more likely..

Buffy Silverman said...

Great interview--I love the idea of using paper frames to focus on a writing topic. I might trek through our snow drifts and try it myself!
Here are two ideas for Olympian biographies: Peggy Fleming and Mark Spitz. I guess I'm revealing my age..

buffy AT

Roberta said...

Thanks for the great post.

I have to say the story of Debbie (sp?) Thomas really touched me too. I would love to hear what happened to her.

For kids, of course they want to hear about recent athletes and Apollo Ohno has wonderful kid appeal.

Love Wolfsnail!

Evelyn said...

This was a fabulous interview. I really enjoyed all the information Sarah had to share. And being a math person, I can't wait to see her GROWING PATTERNS book. Patterns always fascinate me.

As for the Olympics, I didn't get to see much of it. But I was very impressed with a pre-Olympics interview I heard with 37-year-old Chris Klug. He's the snowboarder who had the liver transplant and won a bronze medal less than two later. I think that kind of determination would be a wonderful inspiration for kids who are facing obstacles and challenges in their lives.

Ev (evelyn.christensen @

Katrina said...

would love to know more about Evan Lysacek or perhaps a photo book of the first jamacian bobsled team?

ykatrina at hotmail dot com

Katie said...

I would have to say Kristi Yamaguchi. She's the first Olympian I can vividly remember as a winner!

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

Thanks, Mary Ann and Sarah. I am tremendously interested in this book and so glad to know about it! When I was in high school and an affirmed agnostic, I remember my calculus teacher saying (in a very non-proseltyzing way) that he had to believe in God because of the purposefulness of the mathematical patterns found throughout nature. This statement always stayed with me, and I want to know more about it -- I wish I'd asked then! My daughter has recently become very interesting in math but is perturbed that it is impossible to count to infinity, which she desperately wishes she could do.

As for Olympians, I'm obviously not entering the now-concluded contest, but I had to chime in to say that I am a figure skating fanatic (love Debi Thomas -- I think she's a doctor now). I'd really love to see a biography of Special Olympians that does not relegate their stories to the status of afterthought.

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