Photographs were an important resource for me in writing my book Mountain Chef, about a 1915 camping trip. Recently I spent three days sharing some of those photos with a fourth grade class and helping them explore how photos can be used to research and to inspire their writing. I was struck by how visually attuned these 9 and 10 year olds are. On their first look at the photo they were seeing things that I hadn’t noticed until I’d seen them many times. These kids swim in a world of visual input.
So I was thrilled to be able to share with them Seeing Thins: A Kid’s Guide to Looking at Photographs, by famed photographer Joel Meyerowitz. This book has 30 spreads, each with a photograph on the right side of the page and a very short (about 200 words), kid-friendly essay about the photo on the facing page. The design allows Meyerowitz to use both portrait-orientation photos and landscape-orientation photos; the essay’s orientation simply matches that of the photo it’s about.
The photos Meryowitz has chosen aren’t famous, but they are all engaging, many of them funny. They’re by many photographers and were taken from 1898 to 2014. Some are black and white, some are color.
The essays talk about how the photographers came to take the photo. They suggest ways that the composition makes the photo stronger. I was most fascinated by the many essays that dealt with point-of-view and perspective. Some photos, as Meyerowitz points out, would look totally different if they had been taken from a few inches away, or from a few seconds away.
This book would pair beautifully with other nonfiction picture books about photos and photographers, such as Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph, and Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America and Dorothea’s Eyes: Dorothea Lange Photographs the Truth.
The book has a beautiful die-cut cover which creates the shape of an eye. Unfortunately the die-cut pages that form the retina and pupil of the eye tear very easily. The fourth grade teacher whose class I was visiting sighed over this. “The interest of the kids just goes way, way down once the cover is spoiled with those rips,” he said. But he still liked the book well enough to buy his own copy. And if kids can get past the likely rips and tears, I think they’ll love this book, too.
Seeing Things: A Kid’s Guide to Looking at Photographs by Joel Meyerowitz. aperture: 2016.
I participate every Wednesday with the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.