Mysterious Patterns

To be honest, I had observed the phenomenon but didn’t know the word “fractal” until I read Sarah Campbell’s picture book, Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature (2014). Sarah explains that the term did not exist until 1975. In the author’s note at the end, she adds an intriguing story of Benoit Mandelbrot, the overlooked scientist who studied and named them.

A fractal shape has smaller parts that look like the whole. Trees form a good example in their shapes against the sky. Smaller versions of limbs with twigs join together to make the larger tree that repeats the same basic shape. Broccoli makes a hands-on version familiar to children that is easy for them to take apart one floret at a time to see how it repeats the pattern of the stalk.

Sarah and her photographer husband and writing partner Richard add several other natural fractals like Queen Anne’s lace, rivers, and even the airways in human lungs. My favorite fractals to observe, at least for the moment, are the trees bare against the blue sky all winter, transforming but holding the pattern as they push out green leaves at the tops of their shapes.

I love the way Sarah and Richard combine science, photographic art, and child friendly activities. Previous books Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator (2008) and Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Patterns in Nature (2010) follow their own similar pattern and have won many awards in the children’s book world.  Adults who reads the Campbells’ books aloud to children get a bonus in their own enjoyment of the photographs and maybe learn a thing or two themselves. Rumor has it that another book is in the works. I’ll be waiting. 


In Memory

Except for my annual Christmas post, I don’t do many reruns on my blog, but I’ve lost a faithful blog follower and feel a need to remember. We’ll celebrate the 94 years of Moran Pope’s life at University Baptist Church tomorrow where preparations are already in place for the expected overflow crowd. Here’s the blog I wrote for Valentine’s Day in 2014.

WWII Love Story

Valentine’s Day would be a waste without a good love story, and one of my favorites comes from World War II. Six decades after it happened, Yvonne Pope’s eyes shone every time I heard her tell it. Her husband Moran could entertain with his own version – and with a matching twinkle in his eye.

Small town Newton, Mississippi girls’ wedding expectations included a white dress extending into a long train before a bank of flowers and candelabra with lifelong friends standing up for the couple as bridesmaids and ushers. World War II brought on adjustments. Moran learned he would be shipped out to the South Pacific upon completion of his officer training at Colombia University in New York City. Yvonne left her original wedding plans behind and boarded a train. They were married in Manhattan’s Riverside Church – #38 of 54 Navy couples on the same afternoon. They would be separated for most of the next two years.

After the war, she and Moran settled in Hattiesburg, MS where they raised their son and daughter. He served as mayor and practiced law. She served as gracious hostess. Both were active in community and church activities.

Yvonne’s story was fed by the abundant love songs of the era, and she passed along her love for the music to her daughter. Yvonne played the piano while Melinda sang along. The passion was contagious.

In recent years, as Yvonne’s health failed, Melinda DeRocker made what she describes as a homemade recording for her mother, picking their favorites to share. After Yvonne’s death, with encouragement and support from her husband Rob, the other member of her own love story, Melinda produced a professional album of those songs dedicated to her parents. I listen as I write, “Gibraltar may crumble – Our love is here to stay,” and picture Yvonne and Moran, both storytellers, recounting their versions of the story. While their young love makes for an exciting story, the better part is that the end of it was nowhere in sight with Yvonne’s death sixty-eight years later.

Still forever young at 94, Moran read my blogs on Facebook and often offered a comment. I was in an OLLI class with him a couple of weeks before his death where he still relished learning something new. He savored life until, like the grandfather’s clock in the song, his heart stopped short on March 2 never to go again. My own heart is grateful for the smiles he brought with his stories and for the example he set of how to live and how to die.


Piper Perish - Challenge # 1

The new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang, has issued three challenges for readers. He calls the gauntlet he has thrown down "Reading Without Walls." I had just begun the debut novel Piper Perish by Kayla Cagan and was considering leaving it and moving on to another book when I read about his list in The Horn Book Magazine.

His first challenge was to read a book about a character unlike yourself. I realized this first challenge was the reason I was thinking about putting the book down. I had little in common with Piper. (1) In this coming-of-age story, Piper looks to finish high school and pursue an art education. You could put all my art ability in a thimble and still have room for my finger. (2) She lives in the city of Houston, with the ambition of moving on to New York City to pursue her art. I’m stretching my urban comfort zone to live just outside the city limits of Hattiesburg, MS (population – less than 50,000). (3) Her teen years are filled with risky behaviors and coarse language. My teenage environment as the daughter of a rural pastor was sheltered.

Piper’s intensity as she and her two friends work toward making it to New York together hits pitfalls as each of them encounters obstacles. Piper’s close-knit family deals with her sister’s pregnancy that intensifies the rivalry between them and with the reality that the art school she wants to attend is beyond their budget.

I soon found myself pulling for Piper, turning pages to see how she and her friends would handle their difficulties, and enjoying the quotes that kept her inspired. (“As soon as you stop wanting something, you get it.” – Andy Warhol)

I’m glad I accepted this first challenge from Gene. I’ll be doing the others as well, and reporting here before his year is up. If you’d like to join the fun, you can find his challenge at: Piper Perish makes a good place to start.



When your husband comes in from outside early in the morning and says, “It’s bitter cold out there,” you might want to consider where he grew up and where he lives. The temperature was 37 degrees. He grew up in North Mississippi where slightly below freezing temperatures are normal for winter and now lives in South Mississippi where they sometimes put in a brief appearance. The same day, news reports had one wave of snow and far below freezing weather following another in northern states. I thought I had the beginning of the blog on perspective, but I recently got a much better one.

When we got the two youngest grandsons for babysitting one afternoon while their parents had dinner out, they headed straight for this much beloved sandbox. Somehow, I tripped and fell as I approached and took the far end on my face right across my nose. Before you worry, I am fine. However, much trauma and nose-bleeding occurred with a couple of little boys standing in quiet awe.

Once we got the bleeding stopped and an ice pack applied, the boys relaxed and four-year-old Benjamin said, “Grandma, you were very brave.”

Feeling a bit proud of myself and of him for his encouragement, I told his mother the next day what he had said. She laughed and said, “That’s not how Owen told it. He gave a full account of the excitement and finished by saying that Grandma was very clumsy.”

I could say Owen is only three and what does he know, but I think it has more to do with perspective. Both boys could be right, and the cold was bitter to Al if not to a native of Vermont. I’m thinking it might serve us try looking at things more often from the other person’s perspective.


The Golden Key

The Golden Key by George MacDonald sets straight that no pot of gold, but a golden key, lies at the foot of the rainbow. First published in 1867, Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers has just released a new edition, exquisitely illustrated by Ruth Sanderson in black and white scratchboard.

On my first trip through the book, I found the Victorian fairy tale portrayed on the cover taking me back to my early bookworm days following a hero or heroine on a journey that always seemed to have one more enticement just beyond reach. Male and female protagonists, eventually called Mossy and Tangle, make their way through magical forests and rivers to find the key and then to discover what it unlocks.

I enjoyed the nostalgia all the way to the end, but then looked up to ask, “What have I just read?” Jane Yolen’s afterword and the illustrator’s note assured me that I was not alone in my reaction. The story can be taken as the fantasy it seems on the surface, a fairy tale laced with morality and religious overtones, or an extended metaphor about life and death. MacDonald scholar Dr. John Patrick Pazdziora wrote to Jane, “No one really knows what The Golden Key is about.” The multiple layers make it a book for all ages from those who enjoy a fantastical fairy tale to those who love to peel layers apart and analyze whether the three old men could stand for the Trinity.

MacDonald became a model for names we know better than his – Mark Twain, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Walt Whitman, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis. In fact, C. S. Lewis said, “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed, I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.”

I have no choice but to return to the beginning and see if I can find what the allegory is about.