Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Raising Awareness through Picture Books

Can art raise awareness about serious issues? 

During Green Week at Purdue University, I listened to Joel Sartore, present "Photo Ark: Communicating Science Through the Lens." Sartore is a photographer for National Geographic who has spent his career documenting the world around us.
As more than half of the world's species are threatened with extinction, Sartore has also embarked on a personal mission to document a world worth saving. The Photo Ark Project looks animals in the eye and shows why people should care.

Here are some amazing, endangered creatures.

Following Sartore’s presentation, I asked him whether he felt photographs or illustrations of animals in picture books touched people more.  His answer boiled down to two words, “It depends.”

So I went into research mode. I searched my county library for animal picture books. By reading nonfiction, based on actual events, and fiction picture books, I learned that “It depends.”

Really! It depends on how the story is shared with the reader.

Here are two examples. Jimmy the Koala has a documentary style. Photographs are a good fit to share the experience through the peoples’ eyes.

Jimmy the Joey: The True Story of an Amazing Koala Rescue by Susan Kelly 
“A workman in Australia finds Jimmy, a six-month-old joey (baby koala), lying by a road. Staff at the Koala Hospital check his health and give him to a trained volunteer, who raises him until he is old enough to live with other koalas in the facility’s outdoor “tree area.” When he has adapted to that environment and is ready to live independently, his volunteer releases him in a protected forest area.” – Booklist

In a picture book based on a real gorilla, illustrations share the young gorilla’s experience and emotions. 

A Mom For Umande by Maria Faulconer and Susan Kathleen Hartung
“Because his own mother is too young to take care of him, Umande, a newborn gorilla, is fed and cuddled by human zookeepers until a surrogate mother is found.”

Photographs and illustrations can both tell a story. But the best choice is the one that conveys the strongest emotions. Stories only succeed when they connect with readers.

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