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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

31 Days, 31 Lists: 2020 Fabulous Photography Books

I have a very broad interpretation when it comes to the kind of book that can appear on today’s list. As far as I’m concerned, all forms of photography have their place here. That means that if the art in the book mixes traditional media and photos or it’s a nonfiction work or uses photographed models, they all belong. I yearn for the day a true work of photographic illustration is honored with a Caldecott (aside from the Knuffle Bunny books, of course). Until then, I present you to today’s list:


2020 Fabulous Photography Books

Almond by Allen Say

Charcoal, pastels, and photographs aren’t mixed and matched together all that often in picture books. One gets the feeling that the artists keen on pastels keep a far distance from photography while the photographers might dabble in other mediums but never, ever pastels. For this book to work, Say has to tell the story of a girl who sees her classmate as a kind of genius, otherworldly thing. By using pastels and charcoal on the characters of the girls, and photographs for the backgrounds and other children, it isolates and connects them. They are the only two of their kind in the world. It’s a clever technique. Even the mother is a photograph rather than a pastel person. Here’s hoping for more experimentation with photos in the future.

Being Frog by April Pulley Sayre

Remember Nic Bishop? Where on earth did that guy go? I only ask since this cover reminds me of good old Red-Eyed Tree Frog. It’s a good thing we’ve other talented photographers to fill in the gaps. And I hope you like April Pulley Sayre, because she has THREE (count ’em) books on today’s list. Kinda making the rest of us look bad, isn’t she? Now her photography is without parallel, no question, but I’d like to also give some credit to Sayre’s text. My favorite line in this particular book is, “This log. Its daily job? Support the frog.” If writing simply is the most difficult thing to do, Sayre is a master. 

Cityscape: Where Science and Art Meet by April Pulley Sayre

Sayre appearance #2! Expert photography presents a gorgeous celebration of those big city elements that combine science, technology, engineering, math, and art for the youngest of readers. If ever you needed proof that 2020 was a very good year for photography, this is all the evidence you’d require. I’ve always loved Sayre’s work with nature, but it turns out she’s just as adept at urban atmospheres as well. Love the backmatter, like the “Questions to Ponder As You Wander” around a city, particularly the question, “Who is going to plan how a city will work in the future?” Who indeed.

Dads by John Coy, photographs by Wing Young Huie

Probably the most realistic, truthful, honest, fantastic collection of dad photos I’ve ever seen produced for kids . . . um . . . ever. You’ve got Mennonites on one page and Hmong on the other. You’ve got young dads and old dads and rich dads and poor dads. Huie writes that he just went through his own archives to find these images, and what that means is that this isn’t just some random accumulation of stock photographs. Heck no! These are art. Each one, art. All brought together under the auspices of Coy’s text.

Feel the Fog by April Pulley Sayre

Sayre Sayre Sayre. Here’s number three! Fog is a great subject for a nonfiction picture book. Get far enough away and you’ll get these grand sweeping shots of it rolling in, over the trees. Get in close and you can  only make out the barest of outlines. Reading this book I was reminded by Bruno Munari’s Circus in the Mist, which recreated the feel of fog so beautifully. Fog photography must be a particularly difficult thing to wrangle, it occurs to me. As the fog backmatter explains, how our eyes react to the light bouncing off of the water droplets and ice crystals in the fog affects how we see. Surely cameras have similar problems. However she pulled it off, it’s a beautiful product at the end.

Little Fox by Edward Van de Vendel, ill. Marije Tolman, translated by David Colmer

A little fox dreams its entire life, the good, the scary, and the wonderful in this deeply charming Dutch import. I can’t tell. Is it more gorgeous than charming or more charming than gorgeous? The book is also this marvelous combination of illustration and photography. A little fox’s entire life passes before its eyes, going through the day-to-day living of what it’s like to be a fox in the wild. From its limited color palette to the clever ways in which backgrounds repeat strategically, there is thought and care put into each shot. Extra points to those stunning orange endpapers of trees.

On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring by Buffy Silverman

Are you ready to take a deep dive into a drip-droppy, slip-sloppy, hawk-squawking, woods-walking, crocus-poking, mitten-soaking, snow-melting day? Nature photography celebrates the arrival of spring. The minute this was released a lot of my children’s librarians were enamored. There’s a photograph in this book of a chickadee simultaneously flying and sipping from an icicle. You pretty much could have just shown me that chickadee image and I would have been sold. I know we always need books for the younger kids, especially in the Nonfiction picture book section. This fits right into that category.

Shape Up, Construction Trucks! by Victoria Allenby

Yeah, this is pretty much the third time this book has appeared on my 31 Days, 31 Lists. How often do you find a rhyming math book with copious photography, though? Allenby’s book is almost too good for its very simple premise. Essentially, you’re just looking at some (remarkably detailed, high-resolution) photos of construction equipment and finding the natural shapes in them. And just to up the ante, it rhymes. As the Kirkus review pointed out, you could do a whole storytime and sing this book to the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” song (which I always did with Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?) and make a whole construction production out of it!

Sootypaws: A Cinderella Story by Maggie Rudy

I’m a sucker for models. They’re ridiculously hard to pull off, to say nothing of all the lighting techniques and photography that goes into making them look halfway decent. Still, there is this steadfast cadre of author/illustrators out there that have mastered the form. Maggie Rudy is one of these and I found it oddly gratifying to see that a big publisher had picked up her latest. I know we’ve had more Cinderella stories than we can shake a fist at, but there’s something so charming about Rudy’s latest. The writing actually manages to be both romantic and 21st century (Cinderella and her prince decide to kick off their shoes and see the world together rather than wed right away). As for the art, the rose petal gown that Sootypaws wears to the ball truly looks like it fell from a flower. A treat for both eye and ear.

A World of Opposites by Gray Malin

I mean, it’s hard to resist a cover full o’ llamas. Malin is probably better known in the adult book world with titles like Beaches and Escape. No doubt some of the images in this book were plucked from those, but who cares? They work well in this context and don’t feel shoehorned in. They’re also so good that I had to keep checking to see whether or not he truly was the guy who had taken all these images (he had). You may have seen his book Be Our Guest! a couple years ago. This one’s better. And yes, we could go back and forth all day over whether or not “Feathers” is truly the opposite of “Fur”, but for the most part these opposites are pretty uncontroversial. Plus how do you resist the image of dyed multi-colored sheep (there’s a story there, I bet) running en masse beneath a rainbow?

You’re Invited to a Moth Ball: A Nighttime Insect Celebration by Loree Griffin Burns, photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz

I greatly appreciated the fact that Harasimowicz was given a chance to include a lengthy Photographer’s Note in the back of this book. She really gets into the apertures, f-stops, and shutter speeds when discussing the amount of work and attention it takes to make a book of this sort. As she says, “Light played a very significant role in this book, just as much as the moths and the people who came to see them.” I appreciate the distinction. Plus, who wouldn’t be awed by those graceful luna moths sitting on top of a woman’s hands?

Want to see other lists? Check out what happened this month!

December 1 – Great Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations

December 3 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Funny Picture Books

December 7 – CaldeNotts

December 8 – Picture Book Reprints

December 9 – Math Books for Kids

December 10 – Bilingual Books

December 11 – Books with a Message

December 12 – Fabulous Photography

December 13 – Translated Picture Books

December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales

December 15 – Wordless Picture Books

December 16 – Poetry Books

December 17 – Unconventional Children’s Books

December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books

December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels

December 20 – Older Funny Books

December 21 – Science Fiction Books

December 22 – Fantasy Books

December 23 – Informational Fiction

December 24 – American History

December 25 – Science & Nature Books

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers

December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids

December 30 – Middle Grade Novels

December 31 – Picture Books


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. Judy Weymouth says

    Hi, Betsy,

    Yesterday I spent a chunk of time commenting on the books you featured in that list. Somehow, those comments failed to connect to the site. I’ll try again after I write here. Like you, I hope to see a year where photography captures a Caldecott. I’m a nature lady and would be outside 24/7 if I could. April Pulley Sayer’s photography brings me much joy each time I look at her incredible pictures. FULL OF FALL brings memories of the 14 years full-time RV living allowed me to take in New England fall trees for weeks several fall seasons. My husband and I attended the Biggest Week in Birding east of the Toledo, Ohio, area along Lake Erie seven Mays in a row. Whenever I spoke about these experiences to people who were not familiar with Warblers, I would show them Sayer’s WARBLER WAVE to provide context. Once we had an evening field trip where lights and cloth was set up to draw in the insects. YOU’RE INVITED to a MOTH BALL (not a Sayer) brings up wonderful memories of our experiences that night. Today, I learned that BEING FROG published on my birthday! What a wonderful present I never knew was just for me!

    Not to take anything away from the fabulous variety and quality presented in picture books for children, no “art” can compete with a quality photograph when accurate reality is the goal in the representation of nature. I’m shocked, surprised, and delighted that your list today included THREE such books from this talented photographer. And I know your work well enough, Betsy, to know this would not have happened had these books not represented the very best published this year! Thanks for connecting me to wonderful memories today. I’m off to find the others you featured.