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)
(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?
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy 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.
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