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 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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