When I was in college I temporarily rejected my natural inclinations to be a librarian (an occupation I dismissed as boring and nightmarishly appealing) and decided I would become a photographer. So got a B.A. with a concentration in Fine Arts – Photography. And what I learned from my stint as an architectural/portrait/sports photographer was simple: I’m awful that job. Shutter speeds are not my friends and f-stops cause me to break out in hives. So I caved and became a librarian after all, but I never stopped yearning for photography. Maybe that’s why I’m such an advocate for it in children’s books. In 2014 at NYPL I held a Children’s Literary Salon with panelists Nina Crews, Joanne Dugan, Charles R. Smith, and Susan Kuklin to discuss the state of photography in books for kids. It was brilliant, though I was left wondering why, in an age where creating photographic books for kids is cheaper than ever, the pickings are so very slim.
Here then, are the few, the brave, the books that aren’t afraid of f-stops and shutter speeds the way I once was. Here is 2016 photography at its finest. I’ve include interior shots where available to give you a taste of what I mean:
2016 Photography Books for Kids
Best in Snow by April Pulley Sayre
I am so happy that by putting this list in alphabetical order by title April Pulley Sayre is at the top. Her photography over the years has been so luscious and wonderful that were there an award for Best Photography in a Picture Book, she’d be the ringer who gets it over and over and over again. Best in Snow lives up to its name and is a wonderful title to read with kids right now as the temperatures plummet.
Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird by Pamela S. Turner, photos by Andy Comins, ill. Guido de Flilippo
Initially when I thought of this list I figured I’d only include picture books that incorporate photography. That idea sort of fell by the wayside when I realized that there just weren’t enough of them published in a given year. As a result, I’m including those nonfiction titles where a single credited photographer (in this case the incredibly patient and talented Andy Comings) has done the work. Crow Smarts also happened to be one of my favorite nonfiction titles in 2016. It’s not a picture book but rather a long and remarkable look at what may well be the most fascinating, intelligent birds on the planet.
I Am a Baby by Kathryn Madeline Allen, photos by Rebecca Gizicki
My 2-year-old is currently going through that phase where he realizes that babies are smaller than he is. Consequently, he finds them absolutely fascinating. His favorite movie right now? The documentary Babies. And his favorite baby-related book? I Am a Baby by Kathryn Madeline Allen. But it’s Rebecca Gizicki that we should be celebrating today. If you thought that crow book had some difficult shots in it, just try taking pictures of hoards of babies. In both cases the subject matter is pretty cute.
I Wonder: Celebrating Daddies Doin’ Work by Doyin Richards
A friend of mine lives in Portland, OR and a couple years ago her husband founded Seahorses PDX, a store dedicated entirely to dads and their kids. They asked me for book recommendations when they first opened, and I complied. Had this book been around then, you can bet I would have mentioned it (and I’ll certainly pass it on to them now). Like I Am a Baby it shows a lot of random babies being cute, but am I supposed to object to that? Bring it on!
Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill, ill. Francis Vallejo
If it’s any comfort, I know that I’m pushing my luck here. But the entire book is about a photograph! Granted there’s only one real photo in the whole books but look how well artist Vallejo incorporates the real kids into the fictionalized ones:
So it stays.
Natumi Takes the Lead: The True Story of an Orphan Elephant Who Finds Family by Gerry Ellis with Amy Novesky
Inviting National Geographic to this party is akin to having a hustler at your weekly poker game. I acknowledge freely that I’m also breaking my rule about not having multiple photographers. My weak excuse is that they were all working for the same company (Nat Geo) and therefore we can count them as a single unit. Still, if I’m going to be honest, the whole reason the book is included is because it features a baby elephant that comes into her own. Would you kick out a baby elephant? Would you? Just look at that punim.
Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals by Jess Keating, ill. David DeGrand
And speaking of punims . . . also a book where the photographers were ah-plenty. But it’s all about little known pink creatures and so beautiful. You should take a gander at it, when you get a chance.
The Secret Subway by Shana Corey, ill. Red Nose Studio
Creating the models for this nonfiction picture book was only half the battle for Red Nose Studio. Next came the difficulty in lighting the scenes. Look at the two examples I’ve placed above. Can you full appreciate the artistry at work here? The composition is rivaled only by the sheer creativity.
Whose Eye Am I? by Shelley Rotner
There are a few similarities here to Best Foot Forward: Exploring Feet, Flippers, and Claws by Ingo Arndt.. Here’s hoping this eye book will travel in the same circles.
Will You Be My Friend? by Susan Lurie, ill. Murray Head
And I’ll end today with a rarity. There once was a time when fictionalized picture book texts were frequently paired with photographic images. Sometimes this yielded transcendent books and sometimes it got a touch on the creepy side (paging, The Lonely Doll). Even the first book on today’s list doesn’t really go all out fictional. Lurie and Head are different. They did this utterly charming book a couple years ago called Swim, Duck, Swim! and now they’re following it up with a classic search for friendship. Should you buy it? Here’s an interior spread to help sway you:
Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Adaptations
December 3 – Nursery Rhymes
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – Calde-Nots
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – International Imports
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Older Picture Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Graphic Novels
December 21 – Poetry
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Novel Reprints
December 30 – Novels
December 31 – Picture Books