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Review of Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature

campbell_mysterious patternsMysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature
by Sarah C. Campbell; photos 
by Sarah C. Campbell and 
Richard P. Campbell
Primary    Boyds Mills    32 pp.
4/14    978-1-62091-627-8    $16.95

Bring up the math term fractals in a roomful of adults, and it’s likely quite a few eyes will glaze over. Yet wife-and-husband team Sarah and Richard Campbell (Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature, rev. 5/10) succeeds in making fractals accessible and engaging to — get this — the elementary-school crowd. Sarah Campbell’s writing is clear, fluid, and concise, effortlessly so. She starts off with familiar examples of man-made shapes, such as spheres, cones, and cylinders, as well as items in nature that approximate these perfect shapes (spherical tomatoes, conical icicles, cylindrical cucumbers). She then moves on to nature’s “rough, bristly, and bumpy” shapes — complex shapes ignored by scientists until Benoit Mandelbrot arrived on the scene, coining the word fractals in 1975. Mandelbrot noticed that the shapes of trees, broccoli, and ferns all share a common pattern: each has “smaller parts that look like the whole shape.” Take broccoli, for example: as parts of a head of broccoli are lopped off, the smaller pieces look like the original whole head. Glossy, well-designed pages feature crisp, up-close photographs, which pair perfectly with the text — making this the go-to choice for introducing fractals to children (and grownups). Included are a brief glossary, a “Make Your Own Fractal” activity, and an afterword by a Mandelbrot colleague.

From the May/June 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Tanya D. Auger

Tanya D. Auger is a former middle school teacher with a master’s degree in learning and teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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