Tag Archives: Photography

Perfect Pairing – of Natural Women

For the last Perfect Pairing post of March, I’m channeling my inner-Carol King, and focusing on Natural Women, or more precisely, picture books about two 19th century women who loved nature and shared it with others.

The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photography

Author & Illustrator: Fiona Robinson

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2019

Ages: 6-9

Themes: nature; botany; women’s history; photography

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A gorgeous picture book biography of botanist and photographer Anna Atkins–the first person to ever publish a book of photography
After losing her mother very early in life, Anna Atkins (1799–1871) was raised by her loving father. He gave her a scientific education, which was highly unusual for women and girls in the early 19th century. Fascinated with the plant life around her, Anna became a botanist. She recorded all her findings in detailed illustrations and engravings, until the invention of cyanotype photography in 1842. Anna used this new technology in order to catalogue plant specimens—a true marriage of science and art. In 1843, Anna published the book Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions with handwritten text and cyanotype photographs. It is considered the first book of photographs ever published. Weaving together histories of women, science, and art, The Bluest of Blues will inspire young readers to embark on their own journeys of discovery and creativity.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

Out of School and into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story

Author: Suzanne Slade

Illustrator: Jessica Lanan

Publisher/Date: Sleeping Bear Press/2017

Ages: 7-10

Themes: science; biography; nature; women’s history

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This picture book biography examines the life and career of naturalist and artist Anna Comstock (1854-1930), who defied social conventions and pursued the study of science. From the time she was a young girl, Anna Comstock was fascinated by the natural world. She loved exploring outdoors, examining wildlife and learning nature’s secrets. From watching the teamwork of marching ants to following the constellations in the sky, Anna observed it all. And her interest only increased as she grew older and went to college at Cornell University. There she continued her studies, pushing back against those social conventions that implied science was a man’s pursuit. Eventually Anna became known as a nature expert, pioneering a movement to encourage schools to conduct science and nature classes for children outdoors, thereby increasing students’ interest in nature. In following her passion, this remarkable woman blazed a trail for female scientists today.

Read a review at The Nonfiction Detectives.

I paired these books because they feature 19th century women who loved and studied nature and shared that love with others, despite societal expectations to the contrary. In The Bluest of Blues, Robinson shares Atkins’ passion for botany and her contributions to the scientific study of plants via early illustrations and engravings and later photographs. In Out of School, Slade details the life of Anna Comstock, who studied plants and insects at Cornell University in the 1870s, whose insect illustrations helped farmers to identify pests, who created lesson plans to encourage teachers to hold nature classes outdoors, and who wrote and published many books about nature. In both picture books, a clear take-away is to follow your passion and see where it leads.

Looking for similar reads?

See, The Girl who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science (Joyce Sidman, 2018); The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever (H. Joseph Hopkins/Jill McElmurry, 2013); I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon (Baptiste & Miranda Paul, 2019).

PPBF – Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

As we head into the most-American of holiday weekends and what, for many, is the true start of the summer season, I thought a picture book about a very-American genre of music set where family and friends gather on steamy summer days would be perfect. I hope you agree!

0763669547.medTitle: Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

Written By: Roxane Orgill

Illustrated By: Francis Vallejo

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes/Topics: Non-fiction, Jazz, Harlem, 1950s America, photography, poetry

Opening: from the introduction, “In 1958, Art Kane had a crazy idea. Gather as many jazz musicians as possible in one place for a big black-and-white photograph, like a kind of graduation picture.”

Brief Synopsis: A book of poems that tell the story of Harlem 1958, a photograph of the largest gathering of jazz musicians on the steps of a Harlem, NYC brownstone.

0763669547.int.3Links to Resources:

  • Find a photograph of family, friends, or any other group. Try to tell a story about that picture: why is everyone there? What are they wearing and why? What else is in the picture and what does it tell you about the people or the photographer?
  • Listen to Jazz music.

Why I Like this Book:

A picture book that starts with an image – nothing unique about that. But what’s unique about Jazz Day is precisely that image, an actual photograph of 57 of the greatest jazz musicians in 1950s NYC (Harlem 1958), and how the author of this picture book determined to tell its story.

Rather than write what may well have been a plodding, dry account of this historic photograph that appeared first in Esquire magazine, Ms. Orgill tells the story in poems – short, jazz-infused vignettes of the events leading up to and through the morning. By choosing poetry as her medium, Ms. Orgill is able to highlight the special aspects of the story embedded in the photograph and share some of the backstory, about Harlem 1958 and the lives and careers of the musicians pictured and Art Kane, the man who dreamt up and organized it all.

Speaking of backstory, this much longer-than-average picture book (55 pages, plus endpapers) contains an Author’s Note, biographies of several people photographed, a note about Harlem 1958’s legacy, source notes, a bibliography and perhaps best of all, a two-page spread of the actual photo. No wonder Jazz Day is Boston Globe-Horn Book’s choice for Picture Book of the Year.

The illustrations of debut picture-book illustrator Francis Vallejo vibrantly capture the excitement of the morning and the spirit of these great musicians, and they add greatly to the appeal of this book.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Ms. Orgill shares that she started with the photograph, Harlem 1958, an image of which she’d been aware for as long as she’s been listening to jazz. She “wanted to tell the story of how the photo got made and some of the people who happened to be in it. What I didn’t expect was that I’d begin writing poems. I write prose, not poetry. But this story demanded a sense of freedom, and intensity, and a conciseness that prose could not provide.” (p 44)

What medium best captures the story you’re trying to tell? If a story isn’t working, perhaps try another viewpoint, or even think out of the box, as Ms. Orgill did, and try a totally different approach.