31 Days, 31 Lists: 2022 Fabulous Photography
Long ago, when I was young and foolish, I got myself a double major in college in English and Fine Arts with a concentration in photography. And I had a very serious decision to make after that. Either I could attend the Salt Institute in Maine and pursue that photography as an occupation, or I could move to Oregon with a bunch of friends and rent a house there while I figured out my life.
Reader, I am no photographer. But I’ve retained my love for it all these year it it manifests itself annually with this list. Today, we celebrate those folks unafraid to integrate photography of some sort into their works. A plethora of styles and takes abound here, so sit back and enjoy the media that, to this date, has yet to win a Caldecott Award proper. That said, another photography prize is waiting in the wings. For the very first time, in 2023 the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (the largest international rights fair in the world) will debut a Bologna Ragazzi Prize in a Special Category: Photography. Submit some of these books now, clever American publishers!
Curious about the previous years’ collections? Then take a gander!
2022 Fabulous Photography Books
The Adventures of Dr. Sloth: Rebecca Cliffe and Her Quest to Protect Sloths written and photographed by Suzi Eszterhaus
I’d say this is one for the younger nonfiction category. When Dr. Rebecca Cliffe set off to learn more about sloths, there was a lot we simply didn’t know about them. Join her and learn about their habitat, different species, and how we can protect them in the future. We humans just go nuts for animals with natural smiles. I think what makes this book stand out and apart from the usual ain’t-sloths-cute titles is the concentration on Rebecca Cliffe’s journey as a scientist. The look at how much wasn’t known when she started out is great, as is the backmatter where there’s a “How Can You Help Sloths?” section at the end. Add in the truly amazing facts and photographs and this is a true winner of a title. A book that stands apart, regardless of whether or not its subject matter is cute.
Busy Baby Animals by Suzi Eszterhas
And speaking of cute. Here’s another one by (you guessed it) Suzi Eszterhas, but it’s a board book. I think I’ve talked a fair amount about how torn I feel when I encounter a really good book full of excellent photography and then find that it’s all stock photos. I dunno. Maybe I’m naive but I like knowing the name of the photographer, y’know? Suzi Esztrhas is the kind of person I like to hear about. As a wildlife photographer this board book of hers is full of precisely the kind of inventive, innovative photos of parents and child animals that you wish you could see more of. Her photography? It can’t be beat. Throughout the story you’ve got this text that says what different babies do. So, for the page reading “Babies bugging” you see this baby cheetah fully enveloping its parents’ head, looking to be gnawing on an ear while the now blinded adult sits there, casually. The book is a little less capable when it comes to actual rhyming. Soft rhymes like “Babies swimming” alongside “Babies chilling” aren’t dealbreakers, but for those sticklers like me out there, lower your expectations. A fun, visual eye-popper of a book with a decent if not outstanding text. And if you’re a fan of Suzi, don’t worry. There’s a third book of hers on the list today as well.
Calm by Jillian Roberts, ill. Santi Nuñez
Any day you find a board book filled with photography is a day to celebrate! Awww. Just look at that cover photo too. The baby! So tiny! The book consists of a series of calming techniques for babies and toddlers, with appropriate photos with each. Are there faces? There are lots of faces. Are there emotions? Boy howdy there are emotions! And along the way there are also grandparents, and kids with parents of different races. There are kids of a wide range of ethnicities and just babies babies babies. Always a pleasure to see a book of this sort well done.
Happy Sloth Day! By April Pulley Sayre with Jeff Sayre
Sloth photographs: Part Two! Take a stunning sloth’s-eye view of the world in this beautiful and informative photographic nonfiction picture book from award-winning author and photographer April Pulley Sayre. April died last year and I was so happy to find this, her final title, coming out this year. It’s always nice when a book creator goes out on a high note. I used this title in a presentation to Northwestern University students on the ways in which nonfiction picture books appeal to younger kids, older kids, and adults. The informational sections in the sidebars really are fascinating too. I mean, their claws are their bones, people. So, when you think about it, sloths are just real life versions of the X-Men’s Wolverine (except they can’t retract them). Beautiful photography, as per usual. And now, naturally, I want a harpy eagle as a pet. A sadistic, killer pet.
Hidden Animal Colors by Jane Park
From brilliant green eggs to pink sweat and blue blood, the natural world loves a hidden surprise. Check out these creatures and critters, captured on film, and perfect for read alouds. Ahh. Younger nonfiction with a brilliant premise and marvelous photography. Now THIS is a STEM storytime readaloud, if ever I saw one. It grabs you right from the start with that magnificent brilliant blue tongue and just goes from there. The text and photos work perfectly in tandem, but what I really admired was the order in which you encounter each creature. It’s laid out very admirably. I can hardly think of a better book out this year to ensnare young readers into loving nature.
Honeybee Rescue: A Backyard Drama by Loree Griffin Burns, photos by Ellen Harasimowicz
Uh-oh. Bees have moved into a rickety old barn. Who will move them to a safe spot before the winter? It’s Mr. Nelson, the bee rescuer! An informative and fun look at finding honeybees a brand new home. How much do I love this slightly older nonfiction book? Let me count the ways. I’ve heard of relocating hives of bees before but I always thought it just happened when homeowners found them to be nuisances or something. This is such a meticulous and fascinating encapsulation of the process. Honestly, you could probably sell it on the basis of the gentle bee vacuum alone. And I have the same reaction to seeing Jon Nelson handle live bees with his bare hands as I do to watching someone free solo. Which is to say: abject terror. Burns outdoes herself. This should be in every library
A Journey Under the Sea by Craig Foster and Ross Frylinck
I probably shouldn’t have read this book after watching the spoof of the film My Octopus Teacher by the television show Documentary Now (their version was called My Monkey Grifter). This is actually by the makers of the film, and so the book reflects their strengths and their weaknesses. Their strengths? The photography. Such a relief to see after so many gorgeous but relatively soulless Getty Image books we see each year (I try to keep them off of today’s list when I can). Here you can see that Clarion spared no expense to make the photos in this book as beautifully colored as possible. There isn’t even a hint of pixelation, and the shots are luminous and amazing. This probably contains some of the best underwater photography I’ve ever seen in a book for children. The problem? The writing is perfectly fine but talks down to its young readers a bit. Mostly, this isn’t a problem. It just sort of jumped out at me when I got to the end of the book and reached the final sentence, “Remember the wild, hold it safe in your heart, and return anytime the wind and the waves whisper your name.” Big old nope on that one from me there. But the photos? Top notch! That alone will make environmentalists out of young readers everywhere!
A Leopard Diary: My Journey Into the Hidden World of a Mother and Her Cubs by Suzi Eszterhas
Again with the THIRD Suzi Esterhas! After you read this one you’ll wonder how she ever had time for the sloth or board book ones. I mean, did you ever wonder about the sheer amount of work that sometimes goes into the creation of a book? As I read through Suzi Eszterhas’s work traveling to and from Botswana, tracking leopards (noted as being “famously shy”) so as to photograph them at a very young age (also hard to do), I decided that there must have been multiple reasons for this beyond the book. As it stands, however, A Leopard Diary is an incredibly impressive title! It’s also a great process title. You really get to see how much work it takes to keep tabs on leopards and care for them from afar. Written in a diary format, the book is just packed full of photos and facts. Almost as important? The design of the whole thing is fun and accessible. Though the text is for older readers, it’s just 40 pages long, so it doesn’t scare you off with its size. Big cat loving kids will just eat this up too cause this thing is packed full of baby leopards of various sizes. Baby leopards, people! Are you made of stone!?
Letters to Ammi by Aftab Yusuf Shaikh, photographs by Adrija Ghosh and Soumitra Ranade
The rare fictional picture book on today’s list (and for that, I weep). There are loads and loads of picture books out there that take place in famous cities. Famous, I should say, American and European cities. Cities in pretty much any other part of the world have a tendency to get forgotten. This book is a beautiful look at Delhi, and it’s coupled with a story that slowly unfolds itself as it proceeds. A girl is writing letters to her mother. Her mother used to live in Delhi, so the girl goes from place to place recounting not just her own experiences but the memories other people have of her mom in those places. You see everything from Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, to the Qutub Minar, the tallest brick minaret in the world, the market of Chandni Chowk, and more. The book is also illustrated with photographs of each of these areas, with illustrations sometimes continuing where the photos stop. It’s an epistolary picture book, but one where the mother will never write back, a fact you discover at the end when the girl visits her mother’s grave. A more serious travelogue than we usually see in the children’s room, and a necessary one.
Mercado: The Heart of the Barrio by Judy Goldman, photographs by Ilán Rabchinskey
The mercado as a space has had quite an uptick in inclusion these last few years. I’m thinking, of course, of Raúl the Third’s marvelous Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market (a book that my son read and then turned to me and said, “That place looks really fun”). Here’s another mercado, but one that is displayed in beautifully colored photographs instead. Generally I’d say that this was a picture book work of informational text, but the words are rather meant for older readers. For me, the photography is the true lure. I was reminded of those fabulous picture books like Let’s Go Nuts by April Pulley Sayre in terms of seeing luscious shots of wares on full display. In this book the colors are the true stars of the show. There’s this shot of some kind of a dessert with hot pink innards that makes me feel simultaneously entranced and repulsed. A kid would probably not feel the repulsion. It’s a good book that can make the seafood look as colorful as the pinatas. Warning: Do NOT read this on an empty stomach. And extra points for showing the edible bugs for sale. For a deep dive into a world some kids might not have seen before, this one’s hard to beat.
Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel’s Adams’s Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration by Elizabeth Patridge, ill. Lauren Tamaki
When your country makes a horrible mistake, how do you document that failure? Three great photographers saw the internment of Japanese American during WWII from different angles. Look through their eyes and determine where the truth lies, and where the lies start to sound like the truth. Expertly woven together. Though I’m placing this in the older nonfiction section, the actual text of this book is relatively short and to the point. Partridge is economic with her wordcount here. You really get a very essential if fast rundown of the history of the Japanese American incarceration here. The lens of the book (if you’ll forgive the pun) focuses squarely on three photographers and the different ways they portrayed the concentration camps for the greater American public. Lange wanted to show them honestly, but the government censored her images. Miyatake couldn’t show his at all, so took them in secret and kept them intact for years. And Adams wanted to show the residents of the camps in the best possible light, even if that was ultimately detrimental to the greater good. The text and use of photographs is great, but it was genius bringing in Tamaki to fill in the gaps with illustrations. The end result never flags in interest at any point. And, as a Photography major in college myself, I love how it shows the nuance between photojournalists trying to tell the truth to the world and the ways in which that “truth” can ultimately be manipulated. Heady stuff.
The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs by Chana Stiefel, ill. Susan Gall
What do you do when an entire town is erased? How do you remember the people that lived there? Yaffa Eliach found a way to bring the stories and lives of the Jewish village of Eishyshok to the world. A beautiful celebration of life. When you’ve a great big subject like the Holocaust out there then I cannot stress enough how exceedingly difficult it can be to write any thing for kids on the topic. I have read a lot of nonfiction picture books on the Holocaust in my day, but this may, and I mean this truly, be one of the best I’ve ever seen. I had to sit on it a little while to take it in. I know that when the only Jewish content you have on a list is Holocaust content then that is hugely problematic. But the whole reason this book works for me is because what it centers on isn’t the tragedy but the life of the people that lived in this small town of Eishyshok. The integration of photography with the illustrations (which are Susan Gal’s, so you know they’re going to be amazing) is so seamless that it actually reminds me quite a bit of the aforementioned older nonfiction book Seen and Unseen by Elizabeth Partridge. It’s an original story that adapts to the picture book form exceedingly well.
True You: A Gender Journey by Gwen Agna and Shelley Rotner, photographs by Shelley Rotner
I puzzle and puz a bit on why one book with a message for kids may work while another does not. By my estimation much of it comes down to sincerity. If you’re writing a book for a paycheck then that’s gonna seep into everything you do. But if you actually care about the subject matter, do your due diligence, finish your homework, show your work, and mean what you say. Gwen Agna does her homework. Shelley Rotner definitely does her homework (and has the paper trail to prove it). Together they’ve created this exceedingly simple book on gender expression. But writing a book of this sort, with simple text and bright colorful photographs of lots of kinds of kids, is actually just step one. You write this secure in the knowledge that a lot of the learning being done when it is read will be done by adults. So that takes you to the backmatter, where you must include a note to parents, like the one here alongside one for kids titled, “But How? For Kids Finding Out Who They Are”. Now let’s include a “Letter from a Grown-up Trans Girl” alongside a “Letter from a Family”. We’re not done. Agna and Rotner know for a fact that this book is going to be challenged in a library somewhere. So we’re putting in “A Introduction for Caregivers, Educators, and Loved Ones of Children on the Gender Spectrum.” Now an informative section on how language evolves with some transgender terminology suggestions. We’re NOT done yet, people. Here’s a section called “Therapeutic Support”, an extensive Glossary, and a marvelous listing of Resources & Sources. But at the end of the day how good is the actual book for kids? It’s great. Fun and uplifting. Clarifying and supportive. A book that could be a standard bearer for others, going forward.
Wait – and See by Helen Frost, photography by Rick Lieder
“If a quick small movement takes you by surprise,/ stop and look – move nothing but your eyes.” Jaw-dropping photography accompanies a delicate poem following the life of an ever patient praying mantis. Mmm. Okay, let’s all decide together whether or not we should place this in the picture book, the poetry, or the nonfiction picture book section. My vote? Poetry all the way. After all, the title page says that the “poem” is by Ms. Frost, and who are we to argue? We’ve seen Helen and Rick put together these remarkable and remarkably simple photograph-heavy picture books before. This one, however, may be my favorite. I know that there are praying mantises in the wild, but I’ve never run into them myself. So you have these magnificent shots of the bug on the one hand, and then there’s this image I have never, ever, even known about of an ootheca (the egg case a mantis creates) with hundreds of mantis nymphs emerging. It’s fascinating and more than a little unnerving and I love it. The poetry is, of course, fantastic as well. Pretty much one of the coolest photo illustrated titles of the year.
The Waiting Place: When Home is Lost and a New One Not Yet Found by Dina Nayeri, photography by Anna Bosch Miralpeix
The Waiting Place wants everyone in it to stay. Meet the children who fight back against the interminable boredom and tension of living in a refugee camp, refusing to be forgotten by the rest of the world. Welp, that just about killed me. So this would be Dina Nayeri, sister of fellow author Daniel Nayeri. She’s also the author of the very adult The Ungrateful Refugee, which got great reviews a year or two ago. Her challenge here is how to show kids defying the hopelessness of the Katsikas refugee camp outside of Ioannina, Greece. That cover is probably the smartest thing I’ve seen in a while, since it perfectly sums this book up. Now Dina’s taken the tricky method of giving the camp itself intention. I think it works overall. If we’re looking for books that help kids build empathy, I can think of few quite as powerful as this one. And, naturally, I love any book that knows how to use photography and use it well. Like nothing you’ve read before.
Want to see other lists? Stay tuned for the rest this month!
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 3 – Simple Picture Book Texts
December 4 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
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 – Gross 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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