Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman

Lynn: Talk about a dream team!  Caldecott winning illustrator Beth Krommes teams up again with Joyce Sidman, winner of three Newbery Honor medals in the exquisite Swirl By Swirl:  Spirals in Nature (Houghton 2011).  The result is just what you would expect – another brilliantly crafted book.  This time the subject is the ” spiral: a shape that curls around a central point.”  How do you describe a spiral for a young child?  If you are poet/naturalist Joyce Sidman you create poetry, using words that are at once evocative and accessible.  “A spiral is a snuggling shape.”  The lines give Krommes a springboard for her stunning scratchwork illustrations that swirl across double-page spreads.   In a cutaway page, a variety of animals are revealed, snuggling in for a winter sleep, tightly coiled.  A close-up perspective of ferns unfolding illustrates Sidman’s lovely text, “It unwraps itself, one soft curl at a time.”  I love the richly saturated palette of browns, greens that pop dramatically off the white background with flowers, suns and stars adding eye-catching yellows, and reds.

The pages invite children to trace the swirls, following with their fingers, and locate each intricately drawn creature and ultimately to discover spirals in their own world.  I’ll stop gushing and let Cindy have a turn.

Cindy: Several books for young children featuring Fibonacci and his mathematical sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…) have appeared lately: Blockhead: the Life of Fibonacci and Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. My only math class in college was an honors class that examined math in the everyday world and the lesson about the nautilus seashell and its relation to the Fibonacci sequence stuck with me. I’ve enjoyed all of these books, but Sidman and Krommes have created something special here. Fibonacci is only mentioned briefly in the thematic glossary that ends the book. Instead, the focus of this treatment is the role of the spiral shape in nature from function to beauty. And this book is beautiful too. It would make a great activity to read this to a young child or a whole class and then take a nature walk looking for spirals.

My one quibble? The South American spider monkey appears to be co-habiting quite comfortably with the Asian elephant in one scene…hmmmm. While I did not check the compatibility of the critters in each of the spreads, this one stuck out and it does trouble me a bit to have the animals portrayed as living in the same habitat.

In between trick or treaters today, stop in at the Jean Little Library blog to read more Nonfiction Monday reviews!



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

2 Comments on "Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman"

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  1. I simply can’t wait to read this book. Have you seen The Rabbit Problem by Emily Gravett re Fibonacci? It is delightful. It was one of those purchases, one for school and one for me.

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