Tuesday, April 10, 2012


by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes

Houghton Mifflin-Houghton Mifflin Harcout, 2011

Tuesdays with Morzant:

A Book Review by Morzant the Alien

Zulko, humans. I apologize for neglecting my Tuesday postings lately. As you know, I tend to get distracted with my assorted scientific pursuits. I’ve devoted the last several months entirely to developing Formula 62.1, a special gum meant to counteract Bigfoot’s photography impediment.

Alas, today Bigfoot took this photograph while chewing the gum.

FIG. 1: Orange Tulips; Taken by Bigfoot while chewing Formula 62.1; April 10, 2012

Frustrating, yes, and certainly a setback, but no experiment is wasted. I intend to continue my efforts to discover why Bigfoot cannot take a clear photograph. In the meantime, I’m eager to return to my studies of Earth literature—which brings me to the book I want to discuss with you today.

I realize, humans, that I frequently express bewilderment regarding the particularities of your planet. I’m afraid I don’t assert with equal regularity how much I admire Earth and its inhabitants. Reading the picture book SWIRL BY SWIRL: SPIRALS IN NATURE alerted me to the fact that I’ve been taking for granted the beauty present here and in this entire galaxy.

Because I’m a scientist, it’s often assumed I’m incapable of appreciating beauty. That notion is based on a common failure to recognize that beauty is as present in mathematics as it is in a rose or in a spider’s web. Indeed, SWIRL BY SWIRL demonstrates that a rose’s beauty and that of a spider web is derived in part from the connection they share through mathematical patterns. The physical manifestation of many of these patterns in nature is a spiral; that shape’s pervasive repetition on Earth, and beyond, is the subject of this book.

A connotation of monotonous uniformity accompanies the word “repetition,” but these patterns reveal themselves in a multitude of extraordinary and surprising ways. The occurrences of spirals are so plentiful and varied that their connection to mathematical patterns is concealed; therefore, the unveiling of those connections evokes awe and wonder.

SWIRL BY SWIRL overwhelmed this Zeentonian whose own galaxy echoes the mathematical pattern known as the Ubizebon frenactic. The Ubizebon frenactic is a labyrinthine sequence of numbers that, although intellectually satisfying, produces less aesthetically pleasing shapes than the spiral. For example, whereas the Earth spider weaves an exquisite silken creation, the 39-legged teleporting Zementiny’s web looks rather like a tangled ball of rotting yarn crammed into an ice cube tray.

Neither do the asymmetrical shapes inspired by the Ubizebon frenactic lend themselves as readily to practical applications as does the spiral. The snail’s protective shell as well as the aforementioned spider web are merely two instances provided in the book to display how the spiral’s useful versatility enhances its appeal.

While I’m partial to this book’s mathematical implications, I’m not immune to its more conventional representations of beauty, namely, its lovely text and its magnificent illustrations.

Those of you familiar with my crusade to encourage the inclusion of more snails in Earth literature won’t be surprised to learn that it was the cover’s snail portrait that initially drew me to SWIRL BY SWIRL; however, I was as entranced by the non-snail artwork inside.

My studies of Earth literature thus far suggest that the book’s words lean toward the poetic. The soft sounds and soothing imagery imbue the spiral with a magical air. The words carry the reader through an ever widening spectrum of spiral materializations, from a mouse curled in slumber to sweeping galaxies and then back again, spiral-like, to the cozied mouse.

Good-bye for now, humans. Before I go, I’d like to express my gratitude to you for allowing me to visit your marvelous planet. I’m especially grateful to author Joyce Sidman and illustrator Beth Krommes for reminding me why I stay.

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