Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature

photos by Sarah C. Campbell & Richard P. Campbell. 32p. diag. glossary. Boyds Mills. Apr. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781620916278.
RedReviewStarGr 3–6—The team who explored the Fibonacci sequence in Growing Patterns (Boyds Mills, 2010) returns with a similar book about fractals. Until 1975, there was no name for shapes in nature in which smaller parts looked like the whole shape. Then mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, who had been thinking about and studying these patterns, named them fractals. Using clear text and outstanding color photographs, Campbell explores the concept of these unusual shapes. Beginning with circles, cones, and cylinders, she leads readers carefully and concisely through examples of fractals such as trees, rivers, mountains, broccoli, lightning, and lungs. The photographs, sometimes highlighting the ever-smaller pieces of a vegetable fractal against a black background, sometimes drawing back to give a aerial view of a geological feature, are crisp and precise and underscore the clear text. The book invites readers to construct a geometric fractal as a hands-on exemplar of the concept. An afterword reveals more of Mandelbrot's background and work, which will be an inspiration to budding scientists/mathematicians.—Marge Loch-Wouters, La Crosse Public Library, WI
Here's a clear, fluid, concise introduction to fractals, identified in 1975 by scientist Benoit Mandelbrot, who noticed that the shapes of trees, broccoli, and ferns share a common pattern: each has "smaller parts that look like the whole shape." Well-designed pages feature crisp, up-close photographs, which pair perfectly with the accessible text. Includes an activity and an afterword by a Mandelbrot colleague. Glos.
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. tanya d. auger

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