Follow This Blog: RSS feed
A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Photos Tell the Story: Fictional Picture Books with Photographic Illustrations

Years ago at NYPL I had the pleasure of hosting a panel, as part of my Children’s Literary Salon series, that I’d been looking forward to doing for years. Back in my college days I was convinced that I had a future as a photographer. That plan didn’t pan out (my technical skills with a shutter are akin to that of a stoned sloth) but fortunately for me I’d hedged my bets and gotten an English degree to match. Still, my love of photography never waned and so on March 1, 2014 I lined up photographers Nina Crews, Joanne Dugan, Susan Kuklin and Charles R. Smith to talk about how children’s books illustrated by photographs are viewed, awarded, and how technological changes have affected them over the years. It was a great talk and opened my eyes on a lot of different topics.

Fast forward to 2018. I’m scrolling through the children-literature-uk listserv (populated by many people who once read the child_lit listserv) when I come across someone asking for a definitive list of picture book illustrated by photographs. And I paused.

In that pause I tried desperately to remember if I’d ever made this kind of a list before. Surely I had. Surely it’s hiding on this blog somewhere. So I did a search and came up with a 2011 post called Photography and Fiction. In it I wrote:

“Most photography in children’s books could be classified as nonfiction in a way.  We see a lot of them appear each season.  They do not lack.  But what about picture books that use photography and are fictional?  How common are they?  How often does one run across them?  Children love photos, after all.  So why are they so often relegated to the informative Tana Hoban / baby board book areas of the library?”

It’s a perfectly fine post but it doesn’t offer any kind of a definitive list. And you know me. I’m listy (the opposite of “listless”, I suppose). I’m a librarian. If my job was just making lists all day I’d probably die of delight.

And now the list . . .

Ah ah ah! Not so fast, missy!

Right. Ground rules. We definitely need to establish some ground rules for this sort of thing. We need to figure out exactly what we’re talking about when we say “fictional photography picture book”. Precision of language, darlings. For example, when we’re talking about photography, would you include those books that include photographed models? I’m thinking of titles like the remarkable Hank Finds an Egg or all those books by Terry Border. And what about books like The Lonely Doll? And if you include those then where do you draw the line? For his book Wabi Sabi, illustrator Ed Young photographed his cut paper art. Ditto Cynthia Von Buhler for Who Will Bell the Cats?. The shadows in particular have to be done just right. So do those count as an amalgamation of photography and art? Or are they separate? The only thing to do is to determine (and boy this is arbitrary) whether or not the book thinks of itself as a work of illustration, of models, or as a work of photography. For example, in the case of The Lonely Doll, I would argue that the doll and the bears are not truly the focus. The photography is (think of that shot on the Brooklyn Bridge). So I would categorize those books as works of fictional photography in a picture book form. The aforementioned Hank Finds an Egg, however, is remarkable because the models are the stars of the show. Also, we want to avoid Nonfiction. To do this, I’m making the requirement that the book has to have a plot. That cuts out cute baby face books, alphabet books, counting books, etc. No plot? No go. With all that in mind, this is the closest thing approximating a list that I can come up with. You are encouraged to add your own suggestions in the comments. Let’s work on this together so that in the future when someone asks for such a list, they’ll have one ready and at hand.

With the understanding that this is just a starter list and is by no means complete:

Fictional Photographic Picture Books

The Christmas Wish by Lori Evert, ill. Per Breiehagen

(also by these creators: Tiny Wish, The Puppy’s Wish, Reindeer Wish, The Brave Little Puppy, and The Polar Bear Wish)


Fitcher’s Bird by Cindy Sherman


Frisky Brisky Hippity Hop by Alexina B. White with Susan Lurie, ill. Murray Head

(also by these creators: Swim, Duck, Swim and Will You Be My Friend?)


Jack and the Beanstalk by Nina Crews

(also by this creator: The Neighborhood Mother Goose, The Neighborhood Sing-Along, Seeing Into Tomorrow, A High, Low, Near, Far, Loud, Quiet Story, Below, A Ghost Story, When Will Sarah Come, You Are Here, Snowball, and even more!)


J.T. by Jane Wagner, photographs by Gordon Parks


The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright

(also by this creator, all subsequent Lonely Doll sequels)


Lulu and Pip by Nina Gruener, photos by Stephanie Rausser

(also by these creators: Kiki and Coco in Paris)


Step Gently Out by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder

(also by these creators: Wake Up!)


Stranger in the Woods by Carl Sam, photos by Jean Stoick


Sweet Pea and Friends: The Sheep Over by John and Jennifer Churchman

(also by these creators, Brave Little Finn, Alpaca Lunch, and A Farm for Maisie)


All the William Wegman books, too numerous to mention individually


What would you include?

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Eric Carpenter says:

    Sarah Moon’s Red Riding Hood.

  2. Ammi-Joan Paquette says:

    Are you looking for 100% photos? If a photo base with art touches counts, there’s my Tanglewood Press books, THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING FAIRIES and … MERMAIDS, illustrated with photos and splashes of painted-in magic by Christa Unzner and Marie LeTourneau.

  3. The only ones I’ve actually read so far are “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf” (ick) by Leo Buscaglia Ph.D. and “The Secret Life of Squirrels” (which has a whole series) by Nancy Rose. Another one called “Peanut Butter and Cupcake” (another one of a series) by Terry Border is on my reading list.

    And I feel as if I would be doing a disservice to my Kickstarter backers if I didn’t mention my own book, which is humorous poetry, so not exactly what you’re looking for, but not quite nonfiction either: “Kitties Are Not Good To Eat” by Cassandra Gelvin.

  4. Stephanie Whelan says:
    This is one I remember from my childhood, I think it fits the bill. The Magic Lollipop by Ellen Koshland. Wouldn’t The Red Balloon be one too?

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      If we’re counting J.T. then I think we’d have to count the Red Balloon picture book too. Good call.

  5. Maybe the vowel-oriented early readers by Molly Coxe? Wet Hen. Rat Attack. Princess Pig

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I adore these books, but the concentration is on the models, not the photography. So alas, I must pass (which sounds like a phrase from one of the books, now that I think about it).

  6. I remember “J.T.” as a short TV film. I think it was on the Kukla, Fran & Ollie program (anyone else remember *them*?). I had no idea it was also a picture book.

    Oh my gosh, it’s on YouTube.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Everything’s on YouTube. Yep, it was a short film, but Gordon Parks did the photography for the book, so I figure it stands on its own.

  7. Sky High Guy also by Nina Crews

  8. Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers have some with pictures of vegetables as the characters (it’s the vegetables that steal the show), including Dr. Pompo’s Nose.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I did think about those! I love what those guys can do with a pumpkin. But as you say, it’s the veggies that run the show, not the art of the photography.

  9. Thank you so much for this! I actually have a blog about photographically-illustrated picture books (old and new.) I chose to include mixed media as well and because I interview those I write about, it takes me awhile. Therefore, my list is far from complete. I have recently interviewed Nancy Rose, Mo Willems, Janet Stevens and Dare Wright’s biographer, Jean Nathan. They share with me the photography side of their work. I was actually just about to reach out to Nina Cruse when I found this wonderful list! BTW I also wrote about an amazing book out there by Mus White called, From The Mundane to the Magical: Photographically illustrated Children’s Books, 1854-1945 and Beyond. It lists all the English books she could find in this category. She stopped at 1945 after the introduction of television. Although this is out of print, it is not impossible to find. Feel free to check out my book too (a Kirkus Indie pick – plug plug) about sisters learning to share. She Yelled. I Screamed. She Pulled my Hair! is illustrated in B&W photographs with my Olympus OM-1. Again, thanks!! 🙂

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Oh, this is marvelous information! Now I want to find the White book you mentioned. Thank you so much for the tips! I’m off to read your blog.