Women are notoriously left out of chapters in history, and the long and storied history of photography is no exception. But, if we’re going to push back on being excluded from history, it needs to start as history is being learned. It needs to start with children. That’s why I was excited about Extraordinary Women with Cameras, a new picture book written by Darcy Reed and illustrated by Vanessa Perez.
The book, published by Rocky Nook, discusses 35 female photographers, both historic and current, who majorly influenced either the art or technology of photography. I can’t yet talk to my 7-year-old daughter about when wedding guests assume the male videographer is my boss. But, I can read her a picture book. Extraordinary Women with Cameras allowed me to have deeper discussions with my daughter about sexism and even racism. And, for that, the book is wildly cherished.
The Big Picture
Extraordinary Women with Cameras discusses 35 female photographers who have played a role in shaping what photography is today. It includes well-known figures, as well as many that I myself wasn’t yet familiar with. Each entry includes an illustration of the photographer and a paragraph or two about their work. In addition, the book is sprinkled with photography definitions as well as ideas for kids to try and photograph. My 7-year-old daughter was introduced to different genres of photography and many different female artists. She also gained a general understanding that history hasn’t always been fair to minorities.
While Extraordinary Women with Cameras allowed me to have invaluable discussions with my daughter, it’s also a photography book with no pictures. The illustrations are lovely, but a photo accompanying each photographer would help explain that photographer’s style better than words can. The book also has some name-dropping that doesn’t mean much to kids. My daughter doesn’t know, for example, what Vogue magazine is.
Nonetheless, I’m giving Extraordinary Women with Cameras five out of five stars.
- Sparks important conversations with kids about women in photography
- Features a wide variety of photographers from different backgrounds
- Introduces kids to different photography genres and historic camera technology
- Beautifully illustrated
- I wish the book included more photos along with the illustrations
There are relatively few children’s books that feature female photographers. There are a few books that focus on a single photographer. But Extraordinary Women With Cameras includes 35 photographers from a wide range of periods and in a wide range of genres.
How the Book Looks and Feels
Extraordinary Women With Cameras is a hardcover book. While that’s always a plus, it’s nearly essential for children’s books. Kids are rarely careful with books, and, at least in my house, softcover books almost always lose covers.
The book features 80 glossy pages, dedicating two pages to each photographer along with an introduction, a table of contents, and a list of additional photographers to research. The book’s hardcover and thick pages feel nice and should withstand a child’s beating a little longer than a basic paperback.
Extraordinary women with cameras: The Text
Each photographer is introduced with a brief subtitle about her, and then there are dates and a paragraph describing the photographer and her work. Some pages have callouts for a definition or “your turn” notes with photography idea kids can try. Most also include a quote by the photographer.
The language mixes the simple and complex. For example, the text doesn’t shy from using “botanist” to describe Anna Atkins, but the word is accompanied by a definition. My 7-year-old was able to understand most of the text, but there are a few recurring exceptions. The book, for example, names magazines and museums that young kids may not be familiar with.
The book also discusses historical events that elementary kids may not have yet learned, such as the internment camps of World War II. However, I saw this as an opportunity to have discussions on big topics.
The real value in this book is just that — it’s a way to start conversations with kids about big topics. I talked to my daughter about things women weren’t allowed to do until much later in history. And I could talk to my white daughter about how black women were excluded from those things even longer.
After one read-through, my daughter didn’t remember any specific names; that will come with repetition, as kids have favorite books that are read repeatedly. She did, however, remember the discussions the book prompted. She remembered the photographer that people always just assumed was a nanny (Vivian Maier). She remembered that photographers don’t always take pictures of happy people but of sad pieces of history too. She remembered that there are many different ways to work as a photographer.
EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN WITH CAMERAS: The Photos
Extraordinary Women with Cameras is actually a photography book with no photos. It’s instead filled with beautiful illustrations. Each photographer is illustrated, often holding their camera but not always — Anne Geddes, for example, is holding a baby in a flower costume.
The illustrations are done in an almost cartoon manner — it’s easy for kids to tell they are just illustrations. There are a few Disney-Princess-thin waistlines, but there are some curvy hips as well. Overall, the illustrations teach kids that photographers come in different shapes, sizes, and colors, as well as genders.
While the illustrations are beautiful, I do wish there were more photographs. There are a few illustrations of photographers’ works, but not many. While I don’t think the photos should replace the illustrations, a small photo that the photographer took would help illustrate their style in a kid-friendly way.
Who is This Photography Book For?
Extraordinary Women with Cameras helps fill in where women were left out of photography’s history. The real value in this book is the discussions it initiates. When read with an adult, the book can prompt conversations about history, art, discrimination, and more. While I wish the book had a few more photos, or illustrations of the photos, to show the photographer’s work, I would still readily buy a copy.
I largely read this book with my 7-year-old daughter, but even my 3-year-old son joined in occasionally, pointing to the pictures and saying, “camera like momma!” The ideal age range for this book is likely elementary-age kids. Older girls with interest in photography will likely enjoy it as well. It’s a good book for kids who have grown out of simple board books but aren’t yet devouring middle-grade novels. Younger kids can read this book with an adult, while the language is simple enough for older kids to read on their own.
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