True Courage and a New Leica – YA Nonfiction – Close-up On War

Lynn: close up on warDid you ever wonder where the term “snapshot” comes from? Mary Cronk Farrell includes this tidbit (from the sound made as a picture was taken and the film advanced) in her outstanding new book, Close-Up on War: the Story of Pioneering Photojournalist Catherine Leroy in Vietnam (Abrams/Amulet, 2022). This fascinating book is also a snapshot – a captured picture of a pivotal time and the determined woman who recorded it on film for the world to see.

French woman Catherine Leroy was just 21 years old when she arrived in Vietnam in early 1966. She spoke limited English, carried a new Leica camera she was still learning to use, and she was determined to make her way in what was then a man’s world of photojournalism. Barely 5 feet tall, slim and blonde, Catherine’s appearance belied her fierce ambition, persistence, initiative, and courage.

Farrell begins the book with an excellent and succinct overview of the history of Vietnam and the decades of conflict that had beset the area giving young readers a necessary background for a war that, while still painfully present for many of us, is ancient history to teens. Into this chaotic stew, Catherine Leroy arrived and the book then follows her from her early months struggling to win respect, get jobs, and make her way to the action. Farrell uses a wealth of primary sources including Catherine’s own letters to her mother, accounts from people who knew and worked with her, her articles, and a treasure trove of photographs.

Catherine was extremely humble and always gave credit to others but through these many sources, Farrell creates a sharp image of a remarkable woman, her struggles, obstacles, battle experiences, and the price she paid for her achievements. In her groundbreaking work, Catherine Leroy put an up-close and personal face on the distant war in Vietnam. She brilliantly caught the suffering and the human impact in her photography and brought it into the living rooms of America. Her work helped to align public understanding with the reality of that horrible war.

Wonderfully written and documented, Farrell has brought this important story to today’s young readers in an account that feels as if it is happening before our eyes. The included back matter is excellent. It includes an Author’s Note, lengthy glossary, timeline, and source notes. There is also a remarkably clear explanation titled “How a Camera Worked in 1960s” that will be eye-opening to teens accustomed to digital photography.

There are so many extraordinary photographs included in the book. Some are of Leroy, many are taken by her, and others are taken by others at the time. Abrams/Amulet has done an excellent job of book design and reproduction and this collection adds extraordinary interest and value to the book.

I am long-time admirer of Catherine Leroy and her work and of photography and photojournalism in general. For teens interested in these subjects, or in history or women’s history this is highly recommended. It will be an excellent resource for high school and college history classes as well.

Picturing a Nation – Introducing a Photographic Treasure to a New Generation

Lynn:picturing a nation I grew up awed by my parents’ stories of growing up during the Great Depression and, as a child in the 50s, I also have strong memories of the photojournalism of weekly periodicals such as Life and Look. I’m an amateur photographer too so all my interests were piqued when I learned of Martin Sandler’s upcoming book. It has been a long wait but Picturing a Nation: the Great Depression’s Finest Photographers Introduce America to Itself (Candlewick, 2021) is more than worth it!

In 1935 with the Great Depression raging and the Dust Bowl drought ravaging the plains, Roy Stryker was appointed to head The Farm Security Administration. In a brilliant move, he decided to hire a group of outstanding photographers to cross the nation and photograph America and Americans—the way of life and the desperate struggle that was occurring in so many places. His goal was to sell the agency to leaders in order to secure more funding but also to ” introduce America to Americans.” He was successful at both and in Picturing a Nation, Martin Sandler celebrates the photographers who produced the powerful and ground-breaking photographs that have become icons in both photographic and national history.

Sandler wisely chooses to let the photographs tell the story – as they were always meant to do. He provides brief captions to each that identify the photographer, locations and circumstances of the photo. The book is divided into the FSA regions and introductory chapter texts provide the important background and historical information. The last section of the book, Profiles, are biographical sketches of Stryker and 11 of the photographers who created the lasting historical legacy.

The book design and photographic reproductions are outstanding! Many of the photographs are full page sized and several of the first color photographs are included. Candlewick has done an outstanding job of showcasing this important collection.

While this is a book about the work of these extraordinary artists, young readers will also absorb an enormous amount about the history and impact of Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. These pictures are stunning in their ability to convey emotional power even almost 90 years later. The humanity shines through and it is what makes these images so important. Readers will come away awed, deeply moved, and perhaps with a new understanding that history is the story of people’s lives.

A Picture Book about Hineographs – Changing Child Labor

Traveling cameraLynn: My introduction to Lewis Hine came through Russell Freedman and his memorable book, Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor (Clarion, 1994). It was a book we used constantly in our middle school collection and the photographs in it have always stayed in my mind. I have seen very few if any books for students since Freedman’s book and the issue of child labor is still a problem in the world today. So I was truly excited to learn about a new book about Hine, this time a picture book, The Traveling Camera: Lewis Hine and the Fight to End Child Labor (Getty, 2021) by Alexandra S. D. Hinrichs.

Basing her text on Hine’s letters, reports, and photo captions, Hinrichs introduces young readers to Lewis Hine and his pivotal work, photographing child workers all across America in the early 1900’s. Hired by the National Child Labor Committee in 1908 to take pictures to bring awareness of the horrendous conditions children worked in. His jarring photographs helped to bring about legislation to protect children in this country. Having worked himself as a child, Hine became a teacher, then a photographer, eventually working for the Red Cross. His work was critically important in changing public opinion but sadly it was gradually forgotten until long after his death.

Hinrichs does an excellent job of bringing Hine and his work to life for kids today. As an amateur photographer myself, I especially appreciate the background she provides on the awkward and heavy equipment Hine had to use. For kids used to point and click cameras, the process will be eye-opening as is the information about Hine having to disguise himself in order to get into work places to get his pictures. Well written, and beautifully illustrated by Michel Garland, this is a terrific book to add to all collections.

Cindy: On the opening page of the book is a quote by Hine under his own portrait photograph defining his goals with photography. He met them both:

There are two things I wanted to do.
I wanted to show the things that had to be corrected;
I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated.

Illustrator Michael Garland does a beautiful job with his combination of digital and traditional pastel and sepia-toned paintings, many of which are “snapshots” of the scenes behind Hine’s photographs. A sliver of each page spread holds the free verse poetry that tells “a big story/in a small space” as did the photographs of these children at work. The rest of the page is given to the visual story, in a design that is very appropriate for the subject.

For readers who haven’t seen Hine’s work, the story ends with a spread of some of his photographs. Others are sprinkled throughout the backmatter. There’s a Note to the Reader with information about child labor and other topics related to the book. A Time line of Hine’s life and child labor in the US is included as well as a good list of selected sources and quotation sources.

Older students interested in the subject should also get their hands on Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s child labor books, Growing Up in Coal Country (Houghton Mifflin, 1996) and Kids on Strike! (Houghton Mifflin, 1999). This is a world-wide problem that isn’t going away. I’m grateful for the photographs and the books that help “show the things that (have) to be corrected.”

Ticks in Her Nose – the Story of a Wildlife Photographer for Kids

Lynn: Books for really young readers on careers are not easy to do well but a wildlife photographer/author that I especially admire, Suzy Eszterhas, has given us just that in My Wild Life: Adventures of a Wildlife Photographer (Owl Kids, 2020).  This fascinating story comes with a real bonus as the pertinent information includes a bounty of wonderful photographs that clearly expand on the points being made in the text. Eszterhas confides that she wanted to be a wildlife photographer as a child and she spent many hours in her backyard photographing her cats and squirrels, practicing the skills she would need.

Taking readers through many of the fascinating and challenging aspects of her job, Eszterhas provides information about how she preps the shots, finds and allows animals to grow confident around her, some of the techniques she uses to get shots including lying for hours belly down to achieve eye-level pictures and even flying in small airplanes—which makes her throw up in between clicking the shutter. She doesn’t pull any punches about the conditions she often has to live and work in. Kids will love some of the details like having to pee in a bottle while in a camouflaged blind, living in a tent for months without a shower, or waking up with ticks in her nose. She stresses that patience and having to wait for hours is often the key to success. And it is clear that being a woman in this very male-dominated field takes courage and determination.

Each chapter is an accessible and appealing 2 pages, which is ideal for young readers and the clear text is as informative as it is interesting. Several chapters are about the local experts and the scientists she works with and explains about her dedication to giving back to organizations that help wildlife. A concluding chapter is titled “Ask Suzi” and it provides additional information to questions about the profession.

The terrific photographs will draw readers in starting with the cover which is a beguiling shot of a group of meerkats sheltering from the wind up against her back. This book is sure to be a winner with kids who love nature and animals or are budding photographers themselves. All of them will come away with a real grasp of the skills and hard work necessary for this fascinating career and a deeper appreciation for the outstanding work done by photographers like Eszterhas.

Cindy: Eszterhas is an inspiration. Not only is this book as well done as Lynn says, but Suzi is also donating a portion of her royalties to her nonprofit organization Girls Who Click, a group that “empowers teen girls to enter the male-dominated field of nature photography and use their work to further conservation efforts around the world.” The free nature photography workshops are available online due to the current COVID crisis, perfect for distance and virtual learners. I wish I could take one! If, like us, you can’t get enough of Eszterhas’ extraordinary wildlife photography visit her website for more images that will take your breath away.

Sorry for Your Loss – a Look at Family Grief

Lynn: Jessie Ann Foley has just 3 novels under her writing belt but she has garnered a lot of honors already including a Printz Honor, a YALSA Teen Top Ten selection, and a Morris Debut Award Finalist among other honors. Despite this, I was totally unprepared for the emotional power and impact of Foley’s new book, Sorry for Your Loss (Harper, 2019). This story opens with a funny scene that introduces readers to Pup Flanagan, an awkward unmotivated high school boy and reveals his hopeless crush on a classmate. Then Foley broadens the view, bringing in the other members of the large and noisy Flanagan family—a Chicago Catholic family with 7 kids. Pup is the youngest at 17 and his siblings all live within a short distance in what he thinks of as “Flanland.” But this close and loving family is struggling with crippling grief over the sudden death of one of the sons from meningitis and they are all lost and alone in the midst of the family crowd.

An art teacher takes an interest in Pup and in a lucky moment, opens a door for Pup into the unusual experience of finding something he is good at and enjoys. Through his camera lens, Pup begins to really see his world, his family, his relationships and his own pain and his family’s anguish with an objective eye for the first time. Helping Pup with his photography and giving him experience with another family is Abrihet, an Eritrean immigrant girl from his art class who encourages Pup to keep looking for the light. As Pup finally begins to deal with this grief, he slowly takes his family with him on a journey that may help them all to heal.

This is a deceptively quiet book. It is written with a slight sense of distance that allows the reader to walk this emotional path with Pup while also looking on with an objective sense at the entire arc of their family dynamics. I found this story incredibly powerful and deeply moving. It is a brilliant portrait of family relationships and the way so many families deal—or don’t deal—with grief. Pup is a charming and achingly authentic character who stole my heart as did the entire Flanagan mob. I won’t soon forget them.

While this is a wonderful moving book for older teens, I think it will be equally effective as a cross-over book for the new adult and adult readers.