for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
I met Gabi Swiatkowska eleven years ago in an illustrator’s group focused on picture books. The first time I saw her artwork, it literally took my breath away.
Gabi has a wild imagination and drawing skills that allow her to render exactly what she sees in her head.
As the years went on, Gabi and I became friends, and I began to spend more time writing and less time illustrating. My interest in picture books continued, however, and I hoped that eventually I would be able to break into that market as a writer.
When my own boys were about four and six, we would talk about infinity at home. I searched for picture books on this topic, but they didn’t seem to exist. That’s when I knew I had to try writing a picture book on this topic myself.
Just to be sure that I wasn’t basing the infinity interest level on a focus group of two, I also visited the classrooms of children from kindergarten through second grade to see what they had to say about this concept. Here are a few of their thoughts:
“Infinity is a number that is supposed to be the last number but it isn’t really the last number because numbers go on and on.”
“Infinity is a place where you can’t stop counting.”
"If you start counting to infinity, you will die and you will still be counting.”
|Gabi and Kate at the Eiffel Tower|
“Infinity is when you ask what is outside of a galaxy, and then outside of that, and on and on.”
After talking to children, I had no doubt that a book about infinity would find a receptive audience. I thought it would be helpful to refer to these quotes if potential publishers doubted whether the topic was age-appropriate.
I also tried to strengthen my case by collecting quotations from teachers and librarians who encouraged me to explore this subject.
Back in my writing studio, I tried rhyming versions of the story and many different prose versions. All the while, I was picturing illustrations in my head by Gabi.
When I finally got an acceptable version of the story together, I sent it off to her, asking if she would be interested in illustrating the manuscript. Not long after, I received a beautiful dummy in the mail. Here are the first two spreads:
It was thrilling to see these ideas about infinity in sketch form. Gabi had captured the contradictory jumble of emotions that infinity inspires. The main character, Uma, is fearful, overwhelmed, skeptical, pensive, and eventually thrilled when she is able to find her own definition of infinity.
When I look at the final art for the book, I wouldn’t change thing. Here is how Gabi ended up rendering the two sketches above:
Gabi and I hope that Infinity and Me will broaden the way that children think about infinity, not only as a mathematical concept, but as a philosophical concept as well. If something unfathomably big exists, what does that say about us and our place in the universe? Hopefully, the book will provoke conversations about what infinity is, how it makes us feel, and how each of us can find our own way to imagine the concept. If you would like to share your personal infinity vision, write me.
I am also pleased to share the infinity curriculum that I’ve developed, which is downloadable from my website. I hope that parents, teachers, and other educators will find the curriculum useful.
If you end up doing any of the activities, please let write to me and let me know which ones you enjoyed. I look forward to hearing from you!