31 Days, 31 Lists: 2019 Children’s Books with Fabulous Photography
I had a serious debate with myself as to whether or not replace the Photography category of the list this year with something else like “sports”. Then I realized I read pretty much just one sport-related book in 2019 and back I came. You’ll find in this list that I have a fairly broad definition of what constitutes “photography”. By my thinking, it doesn’t matter if it’s a Getty Image or Nonfiction or Photoshopped or of models and silhouettes. If the book relies on the art of photography in any manner, it has a home on today’s list.
Just to be persnickety, I’m leaving the board books off of today’s list. The ones that utilize photography have already appeared in multiple contexts. Time to let the big kids have some fun too.
2019 Fabulous Photography
Bloom Boom! by April Pulley Sayre
Gentle rhyming text and jaw-dropping nature photography combine in this paean to the eye-popping colors of the great outdoors. The quintessential spring book. And with me a sucker for photography, and Sayre is the current reigning queen of nature shots. So much so that I occasionally find myself wondering, “She didn’t do ALL the photos in this book . . . did she? They’re just too good not to question.
The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs by Fiona Robinson
A little confusing including this book on the list, but bear with me. Robinson pays homage to the first person to ever publish a book of photography. But, as you can see from the cover here, most of the book is illustrated with pencil drawings and watercolor washes. Happily, there are also quite a few real cyanotype photographs as well. The book received mixed reviews due to the fictionalized imaginings of Anna’s relationship with her father, but from a photography standpoint this is an invaluable addition to the medium’s history.
Colors by Shelley Rotner and Anne Woodhull, photographs by Shelley Rotner
Remember Tana Hoban? Man, those books still go out, even if they are the most 1970s/80s objects you ever did see. I think there’s always this assumption that books of color photography will inevitably age poorly. Honestly, I disagree and I think the small Hoban fans out there would agree with me. The vibrancy of this book is part of its true lure. Look at the print job on this puppy. The hues just pulse off of the page. Add in the fact that Rotner plays fair with her colors (she even finds a particularly red redhead, which is no mean task) and you’ve got yourself a true photographic winner. I should note that I’m not entirely certain if this is an updated version of Rotner and Woodhull’s 1996 Little Simon title Colors Around Us. The professional reviews didn’t mention it one way or another. My assumption is that some images may repeat (like the oranges) but that the kids are new.
Great Job, Dad! by Holman Wang
Great Job, Mom! by Holman Wang
I kind of love a picture book that’s comfortable showing a dad who both works in an office and cooks and cleans and takes care of the kids. And on the mom’s side, I’m friends with a woman who works as a carpenter, so this book really hit home for me. On the dad side, usually in these books you either get the sense that the engaged parent is a stay-at-home father and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I like seeing dads that work too. I’m always floored by Holman Wang’s art, so please take that into account when you consider this book. The man is a master of the tiny detail and the forced perspective. His photography skills alone should win awards. Plus, how cute is it that it shows the dad reading his kids the MOST Canadian picture book of all time (one that is almost completely unknown to American audiences) The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier, ill. Sheldon Cohen?
Hello, I’m Here! by Helen Frost, photography by Rick Lieder
Ah, the latest in the Frost/Lieder collaboration. Rare is the picture book that presents a fictionalized story with pure photography (no models, no dolls) as the illustration of choice. And who knew that baby sandhill cranes were so cute? You learn something new every day.
I See Sea Food: Sea Creatures That Look Like Food by Jenna Grodzicki
It is very important to me that you not miss this book. I say this because I came dangerously close to doing just that, and it just kills me to think of how close I came. Essentially, the title says it all. There’s the Egg Yolk Jellyfish (also known as the Fried Egg Jellyfish), the Australian Pineapplefish, the horrifyingly delicious looking Chocolate Chip Sea Star (Google it . . . it’s worth it), and more. And talk about a title you could booktalk without a blink! I recommend starting with the Pizza Crust Sea Slug and going from there. Every single one of these creatures is real, and their photographs are truly stunning. I particularly enjoyed a section at the end called “Sea Food or Me Food?” where you have to figure out from the extreme close-up photos whether or not the food is a creature or something you can actually devour.
Spy Runner by Eugene Yelchin, photography by Eugene Yelchin
This would be the only middle grade novel on today’s list. If you are unfamiliar with Mr. Yelchin’s book, I should state for the record that The Red Scare has rarely been so exciting. Written in response to our current era’s love of ideology, this is a scathing critique of both Communism and McCarthyism. You literally never know what the book is going to do from one moment to the next. Best of all, it contains grainy spy photography throughout. Very strange. Very evocative. I had a chance to interview Mr. Yelchin about the book and here’s what he told me about the accompanying art:
“The artwork for the book began in the style of 1950s spy and crime comics. I am a fairly skilled forger, so that by looking at my pictures one could assume that they were authentic period pieces. It appeared to me later that comics-style illustrations were misrepresenting gravity of the project. The narrative takes its cues from pulp fiction, but pulp fiction it is not. Since spy photography is at the heart of the book, the next logical step was to create images reminiscent of those clandestine photos. These pictures cast doubt on everything the protagonist holds as true while contributing to the vertiginous sense of a nightmare he finds himself in. The final illustrations are photo-collages composed of hundreds of separate pieces either found or photographed by me and composited digitally using some basic Photoshop effects.”
Read the entire interview with Eugene here, and check out my review while you’re at it.
Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women, retold by Kate Forsyth, ill. Lorena Carrington
Hey, if I can include photography of models then I certainly can include photography done in a silhouette style. Seven ancient fairytales showcase strong girls and women that get themselves out of heaps of trouble using brains and bravery. Each tale is accompanied by magnificently evocative photographed silhouettes that heighten each story’s excitement and foreboding. A lot of time and love and attention went into, not only the selection of these stories, but the elements that were tweaked slightly (ever so slightly) for a contemporary audience. I’m a sucker for too little lauded fairy tales anyway, so this was already up my alley. I appreciated that it never sacrificed the macabre elements. Just add in the fact that the photographic images accompanying the book are strange and beautiful and creepy all at once, and I’m sold. We see a lot of “strong girl” book collections out right now. Let’s put a book on our list that gets right down to the source of the matter. Extra points for the story Carrington tells at one point about a gift from some friends who told her, “We brought you a present!” and then gave her a full fox skeleton they’d found.
You can read my full review of the book here.
Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
When the going gets tough, the tough wait, rest, and pause. I spoke to a group of librarians not too long ago about some of my favorite books of 2019. When I finally got to this one, all I had to do was hold up the cover. Can you tell what you’re looking at? Tiny, frozen ladybugs. This collection of magnificent photography introduces dormancy to the youngest of readers. I don’t even know where to begin in my praise of this. There’s the simplicity of the text, which makes dormancy (not hibernation) understandable to the youngest of readers. The backmatter distinguishes between Plant Dormancy, Diapause, Hibernation, Torpor, Brumation, and Estivation and look at that Bibliography!! Teachers, your favorite book has arrived. One of my clever co-workers even noticed that you could use this book with kids to get them to take a moment, stop, and slow down. She suggested pairing it with Quiet by Tomie de Paola and A Stone Sat Still by Brenden Wenzel. Brilliant.
Wrinkles by JR
Ostensibly a coffee table picture book, which Phaidon doesn’t produce as often as you might think. Yet there is no denying that JR’s photography is sublime. Every crack, crevice, and cranny on these faces is writ large. In a way it reminds me of Andrew Zuckerman’s alphabetical animal books like Creature ABC. A case where a photographer’s adult work is successfully adapted for kids (JR typically put these photos in six cities around the world on the sides of buildings). Pretty cool.
Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!
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 – Easy Books
December 18 – Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Informational Fiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Older Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
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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