Saturday, November 23, 2013

30 Days of Picture Books - Swirl by Swirl by Joyce Sidman

It's Day 16 in our 30 Days of Picture Books. I might have mentioned it before, but Sprout is really into science these days. We recently made a trip to a nearby science center to see their dinosaur exhibit, and Sprout was absolutely mesmerized by nearly everything there. He has a very inquisitive mind and wants to know how things work and what's going on beneath the surface. I love that my husband is willing to explain things like the water cycle in terms Sprout can grasp - yet another way for my boys to bond.

And so any science-related book I bring home is a sure-fire hit, and today's pick, Swirl by Swirl, was no exception. Joyce Sidman wrote a book we featured in last year's 30 Days of Picture Books, Red Sings from Treetops, which is so incredible that we've read several more titles by her in the past year. But the one that sticks out for me most is Swirl by Swirl, for the way Sidman's text and the images by Caldecott winner Beth Krommes intertwine to produce a fully realized work of art and science.

Sidman's focus here is the spiral shape -- who else would have thought to create an entire picture book around this topic? It's remarkable, when you start to look around nature, how much that very elemental curl occurs over and over. Snail shells, fern fronds, animals wound into a ball for protection or hibernation - spirals are everywhere. I adore the descriptions Sidman uses throughout. "A spiral is a clever shape," she writes. "It is graceful and strong." She chooses her words carefully but purposefully, and for me that increases the impact so much more.

You can't describe this book without mentioning the visuals. Sidman's examples are illustrated beautifully by Krommes, who uses her signature scratchboard technique to provide depth and movement to each image. Suddenly the spirals become little jewels, sparkling throughout the natural world, each alive with purpose and surrounded with a sense of wonder. Even the endpapers are dazzling, not a spare inch left unconsidered. Sprout likes to read this one straight through and then go back a second time so we can pick out the little descriptors of what we're seeing, all thoughtfully labeled. Further, there's a nice meaty afterword that will satisfy the curiosity of any budding scientist.

If there's one thing I hope I can demonstrate with the titles we're sharing this month, it's that picture books are so much more than sleepy bunnies and hat-wearing felines. Next time your kiddo is wondering how the world works - check out a picture book like Swirl by Swirl for a fresh perspective!

Swirl by Swirl by Joyce Sidman, published by Houghton Mifflin

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