31 Days, 31 Books: 2023 Fabulous Photography in Kids Books
There was a moment in my life when I had the choice between becoming a photographer or a librarian. I chose the latter and have never regretted it, but the lure of photography has never left me. In the old days (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before) it wasn’t uncommon to find fictional picture books illustrated with photography. These days finding such books is a huge challenge. You’ll see that the books included on today’s list range from fairy tales to nonfiction to poetry. Take a gander (some of these have appeared on my 31 Days, 31 Lists before) and enjoy this ode to f-stops and apertures.
If you’d like a full PDF of today’s list you can find one here.
Curious about the previous years’ collections? Then take a gander!
2023 Fabulous Photography for Kids
At Home with the Prairie Dog: The Story of a Keystone Species by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, photographs by William Muñoz
What’s a keystone species and why are prairie dogs so incredibly important to the prairielands? Take a trip down into their burrows and learn how these necessary animals keep at least 150 species healthy and thriving. This is great. I wasn’t in love with the font, but that’s the harshest thing I can say about the book. If you’re looking for a picture book that really defines what a “keystone species” is by showing rather than telling, this is the book you want to have in hand. Patent cleverly intertwines a prairie dog’s everyday existence with the lives of so many other critters and species in the prairielands. I also appreciated the photography at work here, and completely understand why they had to supplement Mr. Muñoz’s work with shots of other Getty images n’ such. Normally I won’t allow Getty image books on this list, but this title goes above and beyond the call of duty. All told, this takes something cute and makes it pertinent.
Crowned: Magical Folk and Fairy Tales from the Diaspora by Kahran and Regis Bethencourt
Twenty-seven reinterpreted folk and fairy tales, old and new, are paired with stunning visual photographic images celebrating the African and African-American diaspora. You may remember the Bethencourts from their visually stunning picture book The Me I Choose to Be by Natasha Tarpley in 2021. Same pair of photographers and same amazing images. In this particular book the Behencourts are reinterpreting folk and fairy tales, which I tend to enjoy. The photography is the real jaw-dropping star of the show, leaving the serviceable stories in the dust. Consider this a book for your eyeballs rather than your ears. Want to see more? You can view images from the book in this ABC News piece:
Dear Yesteryear by Kimberly Annece Henderson
When I was a teenager, I had a secret passion. It was a little odd, but I loved going to antique shops and looking through the old photographs they had on sale there. These were forgotten photos from the late 19th early 20th century, and often I would buy the ones that I thought were the most interesting and take them home. There, I’d make up stories about them and what their lives might have been. Photography has always been something that’s fascinated me. Little wonder that when I heard about Dear Yesteryear I was instantly intrigued. What I did as a kid as a hobby, historical curator and researcher Kimberly Annece Henderson does as a calling. In this book she takes historical photographs of Black people and their families from the 19th and early 20th century and weaves poetry around them. In her Note from the Author she says, “Trees have roots, and we each come from a long line of people who play a role in our unique life story.” When I interviewed Ms. Henderson about the book this year, she said, “this book acts as a figurative family photo album for Black Americans who might not have done their ancestry research yet, or if they’re like me, and they have hit roadblocks researching their ancestry due to American Slavery, these portraits represent this idea of collective Black ancestry in a sense. That’s what makes it feel special in my opinion.” Beautifully put and beautifully put together.
Destiny Finds Her Way: How a Rescued Baby Sloth Learned To Be Wild by Margarita Engle, photos by Sam Trull
The “Baby Animal Tales” series from National Geographic Kids relies, to a certain extent, on two things: The subject matter and the author. That there will be copious photographs? That’s a given. Of course, it helps each book a great deal if there’s a bit of a story to go along with the cute critters (and up until this moment each one really has been conventionally adorable). Here, Margarita Engle was not present when Destiny’s story was been lived out, but she’s gotten all her information from the people who knew her, as well as this plethora of great photos by Sam Trull. The end result is that you’ve the story of a twin baby sloth who was found at the base of a tree alone, and taken in by an animal rescue center in Costa Rica. The photos are a great lure, but I was particularly impressed by how Engle kept the words concise and limited, to a certain extent. There aren’t big blocks of overwhelming text here. Instead, the font is actually relatively large and the storyline beautifully rendered. As exciting as fiction, but more so because you know that it’s real. Come for the writing. Stay for the photos of little Destiny hugging other rescued sloths because she likes hugging so much.
Every Body: A Celebration of Diverse Abilities by Shelley Rotner
If you’re an aficionado of photography in children’s literature, it can be a lonely lot. There are really only a handful of established photographers to pick and choose between. Fortunately, Ms. Rotner is one of the few. She staked her claim in the world of nonfiction as our preeminent photographer/author years ago, and it’s paid off. Her subjects tend to be actual kids, more often than not, and this book is precisely what it sounds like. Jennifer Browne, the book designer, should probably get equal billing in terms of how the images here are laid out. You’ve full page spreads, pages where there might be eight portraits all at once, and places in between the two. Because a book like this doesn’t systematically explain that one child might have Down’s syndrome or another is deaf, parents and teachers will need to be there to explain elements of the book to kids. It doesn’t pander nor does it make it seem like everything is equally easy for everyone. But with its representation, bright colors, and clear text, it’s a nice one. A posthumous note from Judith Heumann herself (who died earlier this year) as well as other disability rights advocates complements the printed rights recognized by The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and Glossary. Previously Seen On: The Message List
How to Bird by Rasha Hamid
“Are you a birder?” Good news. Anyone can bird! Let this joyful little book be your guide with vibrant photographs and a heaping helping of enthusiasm! Folks, I just seem to keep finding great books. This latest is no exception. Here we have a book that makes it clear that any kid, anywhere (but particularly if you’re in the city) can be a birder. The birds that they show are indeed of the city (though I might take issue with the fact that they call the sparrows in the book “house sparrows” which are an entirely different breed). The photographs are a ton of fun, a mix of photos takes by Ms. Hamid and some other folks and iStock photos. But really I just love the energy of this book. If any book is going to make you want to run out the door to spot a birdie, this is the one. Previously Seen On: The Simple Picture Books list.
In Between by April Pulley Sayre, with Jeff Sayre
Have you ever felt stuck in between something before? Lush, lovely photography perfectly encapsulates both the comfort and frustration of finding yourself in the middle when you’re young. It’s a visual encapsulation of how everyone and everything is perpetually in a state of flux. April Pulley Sayre really was a master of photography in her time. The photography on these pages is without parallel. Kudos, then, to Jeff Sayre for using her photos to co-create this story about being between ages and places and times. Not only does this book show off April’s adept handling of different kinds of creatures, but it’s a marvelous show of how she could get so close to the tiny and also back up far enough to show landscapes and places. I’m so sorry we won’t be seeing more of April’s books in the future, but I’m so happy we at least have this one now.
My Hair Is Like the Sun by St. Clair Detrick-Jules, ill. Tabitha Brown
I ask you, one and all, to take a good, long, hard look at this cover. This, my friends, is my perpetual frustration. This cover is not overly complicated and yet it is, in essence, incredibly well made. It’s beautiful, the colors are fantastic, and look at how well the photo itself was exposed in terms of contrast! How is it that we don’t have reams and reams of board books that look like this one? In lieu of that fact, we must be content with what we have, and what we have is a thoroughly charming creation. It’s a celebration of Black hair that compares a variety of styles to natural forces. So St. Clair Detrick-Jules not only wrote the text but took these photos as well and I want to honor the skill that went into this collection. This isn’t some haphazard smattering of children. It’s thought out, skillful, and a beautiful range of hair and skin tones. I’ve seen a lot of children’s books celebrating Black hair, but few board books, and what few I’ve seen tend to be illustrated. There’s something so enormously satisfying about seeing real hair on the page. A magnificent book, I don’t really understand why more publishers haven’t jumped on this bandwagon yet. In any case, this is one of my top board books of the year. Don’t miss out on it! Simply fantastic. Previously Seen On: The Board Book List
Nature Is a Sculptor: Weathering and Erosion by Heather Ferranti Kinser
Take a trip to national parks and landmarks to learn about all the different ways that nature designs some of the most beautiful landscapes. My sole objection to this book is that every time I see this title I start singing “Rhythm is a Dancer” for some reason. Not the book’s fault, I suppose. I’m a sucker for gorgeous photography and how can you possibly resist the shots they’ve included here? More to the point, Kinser has taken this mass of information about weathering and erosion and organized it into a comprehensible and understandable format. The rhymes are also accomplished (which is always a relief). “The ocean is a hammer / pounding shorelines into bits. / Ice – a chilly chisel – finds a crack, / expands, and splits.” Very cool. Previously Seen On: The Rhyming Picture Books List
Hope you enjoyed these! Here are the lists you can expect for the rest of this month:
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Picture Book Readaloud
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 – Older Funny Books
December 20 – Science Fiction Books
December 21 – Fantasy Books
December 22 – Comics & Graphic Novels
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 – 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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