Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature
By Joyce Sidman; illustrations by Beth Krommes
40 pages, ages 4-8
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2011
“A spiral is a snuggling shape,” writes Joyce Sidman. “It fits neatly in small places.” With that cozy beginning, Sidman and illustrator Beth Krommes launch us into a closer inspection of spirals in the natural world.
Spirals start out small and get bigger “swirl by swirl”. Sidman’s lyrical prose helps us understand how spirals are strong, protective, expansive. Krommes’ scratchboard illustrations capture the details: a tail twining around a twig; the way a chipmunk curls up to sleep overwinter.
From snail shells to galaxies, from the curl of an ocean wave to the twist of wild wind, spirals are everywhere. Sidman includes a couple pages at the end that explain more about the plants and animals featured in the book and shows how nature and numbers combine in spirally patterns.
I asked Sidman why spirals?
“I’ve always been interested in them,” she said, “why they appear and why we find them beautiful.” The trick, though, was to find a way to write about them…. “I wanted this to be more than a book about shapes. I wanted to understand why spirals work well in nature, in so many circumstances.”
So Sidman read and read and read. She also collected lots of photos and did a lot of thinking. Then, once she grasped the reasons for why spirals occur in nature she began organizing her book.
Even though Krommes was doing her own research for the illustrations, Sidman sent photos. The two sent ideas back and forth and the book grew in a collaborative fashion. “It was a lively, challenging, and unusual way to create a picture book,” Sidman said. “Usually the editor is the only link between author and illustrator; I loved being part of the whole process!”
You can’t help but learn something new when you work on a book. Sidman learned a lot about Fibonacci numbers, she said – but don’t ask her to explain them. The neatest thing she learned? “That butterfly tongues form spirals but frog tongues don’t!”