“Whoa, what’s THAT book?” by Kent Sargent

“Whoa, what’s THAT book?” by Kent Sargent

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I was a bit taken aback…it looked like a 3rd grade “reader”, straight out of the 1950’s! The cover of the small  6×9 book was illustrated, not with a photograph, but with a color drawing.

Looking more closely, it was in fact a ‘reader’, for children ages 3-4, titled Margaret Bourke-White.  It’s written by Catherine A. Welch, illustrated by Jennifer Hagerman and published by Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing, an educational children’s book publisher.

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What was odd was that it’s a book about a photographer, and it’s illustrated throughout with color drawings, and not photographs!  Why, and why do we have it?

The latter first… many times authors will use the ICP library while researching their subject and in turn send us a copy of their publication.  If it fits within our collection development policy, then we’ll keep it.  In addition, the library is interested in the history of the pedagogy of photography, retaining ‘how-to’ books, manuals and biographies for a wide range of readers.

To ‘ why is a biography of a photographer illustrated with 4-color drawings and not photographs’  is more curious. You’d think that a photograph would be more engaging to a child’s imagination; say, Bourke-White teetering on the edge  of a gargoyle, 800 feet up on the Chrysler building and wielding a view camera.

Yes, but it all depends on age.

At ages 3-4 children are beginning to learn to read, but most likely they are being read to as opposed to reading on their own. They’re hearing words pronounced, they’re seeing them in written text; they’re associating the aural with the written word.  They’re learning the meaning of those words and creating their own interpretations of them.

More specifically to the strength of drawn over photographic illustration, they relate more strongly to the drawn because it’s exactly those kinds of images that they are learning to create and give meaning to.  They’re learning to draw, to make lines, shapes and add colors to create images and stories that help them understand and interpret the world around them.  [1]

Pictures, any illustration, are included in a text to reinforce the ideas being expressed.  They bring additional detail that supports, defines and develops text, characters and plot.  Illustrations provide alternative as well as additional points of view. They reinforce each other enhancing the meaning of each. [2]

In those early years, Illustrations serve as aids to education, aids for “reading to learn”, which includes perception, understanding, memory, creativity and interpretation.  They help stretch the child’s, indeed anyone’s,

Imagination for that matter. [3]


There’s no written word to accompany the images, one literal, one figurative, but none are needed to let the imagination enjoy the interplay  between them.

The use of illustration over, or in addition to, photographs has always been with us; to wit:  Robert Frank, Ed Ruscha, Duane Michals, Gerhart Richter.

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Closer to home, take a look at the Teen Academy book project (Monsters and Madonnas,  January 11, 1916).  Livvy Ferrari’s  book project shown below has incorporated drawings of nature to work in tandem with her hypnotic photographs of light streaming through the leaves and branches of the trees she’s photographed.

[1]   Russel N. Carney and Joel R. Levin, “Pictorial Illustrations Still Improve

Students’ Learning from Text”, Educational Psycholodgy Review, Vol. 14,

No. 1, March 2002 (©2002)

[2]   “Learning to Write and Draw”,  Zero to Three: National Center for Infants,

Toddlers and Families, © 2014, http://www.zerotothree.org/reprints

[3]   “Helping Your Child Learn to Read” (© 1999 American Adademy of

Pediatrics), http://www.healthychildren.org


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1 thought on ““Whoa, what’s THAT book?” by Kent Sargent”

  1. There’s something warm and emotional in an illustration, missing often from a photograph. the illustration would appeal to a child’s imagination. certainly, it would to mine.

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