The History and Making of Symmetrical Designs

written by Pam Stephens
illustrated by Jim McNeill

from Crystal Productions
Paperback, 40 pages
ISBN-10: 1562902431
ISBN-13: 978-1562902438
Dimensions: 10.8 x 8.3 x 0.2 inches,1 pound

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A book review by webmaster Seth

The title may make you think this is a scholarly book for adults. It's not: it's a slim, lightweight introductory book for kids in the 6 to 10 year old range. Someone who gives such a grandiose adult scholarly title to a children's book is the same sort of silly person who names their cat "Sir H.R.H. Whiffenpoofy Fluffybottom the Third, Esquire". May their overburdensome language drive potential mates from them the way Texas chilli breath drives away women, dogs, sheep, and smart horses.

This book is populated by two fictional narrator characters: Tess E. Lation and Paul Egon. Ouch.

Each of the 40 pages has bright full-color cartoony illustrations and just a few words...much like Dr. Seuss's "The Cat in the Hat", but more instructional rather than cautionary. This is a book that you might give to a gifted artistic nephew for his 6th or 9th birthday, to inspire him to understand the basics of tessellation and to try making one or two. If this book does what it aims to, and I think it can, you'll still come home to find your home's walls covered in crayon drawings, but those drawings will be tessellations. Unlike "The Cat in the Hat", no cats or authors or Escher descendant will come to your house with a magical machine that cleans purple crayon off your walls.

The second half of the book shows steps to make three or four kinds of tessellation. The method shown is very similar to the popular "paper cut" method shown here at www.Tessellations.org

This is both good and bad. It's good because the method is presented clearly, and it's easy for young folks to follow. It's bad, because although it produces shapes that tessellate, those shapes are almost impossible to edit. They're cut from cardboard, and no hint is given that the resulting cardboard shapes won't actually LOOK like anything. No advice is given on how to make those shapes more closely resemble whatever theme the beginner artist has chosen.

So, it teaches how to get a shape that tessellates...but may be frustrating to the beginner who wonders "how come the authors got a tessellation that looks exactly like some theme, but all I got was a confused mishmash that can't be improved and barely resembles a spilled bowl of spaghetti?"

In my opinion, it's the process of editing a tile's outline that gives artists a real understanding of tessellation. So, although this is a good first book on tessellation for kids who have art talent and an interest in this kind of art, this book won't develop the beginner's sense of space, visualization, and outline manipulation. This book should therefore be followed soon after with plenty of encouragement, several pages of tracing paper, and a printout from www.Tessellations.org of tessellation creation lessons that permit and encourage editing. That, or give the kid a copy of Kevin Lee's program, TesselManiac!, and stay close to the kid's computer so you can help the kid understand TesselManiac's toolkit.

~~ Webmaster Seth, July, 2014

illustration from tessellation book by jim mcneill illustration from tessellation book by jim mcneill
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