Monday, March 10, 2014

Coffee table books round up

Even though I haven’t been blogging very much in the past few weeks rest assured that I’m always busy reading or at least looking at books with lots of pictures.

Thus today’s topic – coffee table picture books.

I’m a big proponent of these books as the best of them are typically, beautifully produced, informative and often give us mini-narratives about the photographer’s work, adventures and views on a given topic.

Let’s start with Dawn to Dark Photographs: the Magic of Light by National Geographic.  I can’t think of a single National Geographic book that has ever disappointed me.  Always stunningly beautiful photographs arrayed in thoughtfully produced books.

In Dawn to Dark Photographs, the photographs are sorted into eight sections based on time of day starting with dawn, then into sunrise, morning, midday, afternoon, sunset, twilight and then night.  Most of the photos are of landscapes and specific natural phenomena with a few showing people or animals.  In terms of classroom use, I was thinking about the obvious connections with the elementary science units about light and shadows, time, animals, as well as with photography as an art form for any level.  What I hadn't thought about was the meditative quality of the book.  Jim Richardson in the preface reminds us that photographs can resemble medieval meditations (think illuminated texts like the Book of Hours) as we pause to look and reflect on “the miracle of light and appreciate its infinite and astonishing variety”.  Every few pages we get a short passage written by the photographers about their picture: what they saw and experienced and maybe tried to capture in their image.  Or we are given a short poem, quote or thought that ties into the adjacent photo. 

India: In Word & Image by Eric Meola obviously connects to the grade 3 social studies curriculum which looks at life in India.  What totally blew me away was the overwhelming sense of colour.  Even before getting to the title page our eyes are bombarded with achingly vibrant colours.  Besides being richly coloured, the photographs capture the exotic and textured landscapes and architecture of India.  Images of people are captured individually or in groups in moments of celebration and everyday activities.  I’m not sure if it’s just me being caught up with the myriad of patterns and colours of saris or the photographer’s keen interest, as many of the pictures depict sari-clad women.

The photographs are anchored between passages, often selections taken from novels, written by authors who are Indian, of Indian descent, or who write about India.  The passages are appropriate for high school level and up but the pictures will engross any age.

And, finally I’m recommending Relics: Travels in Nature’s Time Machine by Piotr Naskrecki. This one has more text than the other two making it appropriate for high school reading level and up or perhaps for students who are super keen on palaeontology and willing to make the effort.  I didn't find the information difficult to digest; it just seemed a little dense and might be intimidating to less-than-proficient readers.  However, Naskrecki does include lots of vignettes of his adventures, which read like little mini-stories and he certainly conveys his passion and excitement.

But it's the great pictures that will get students into the book.

This entomologist is also a fantastic photographer who travels the world looking for animal and plant relics found in nature.  “Living fossils”, relicts and relics all refer to those species of plants and animals that can be linked to similar organisms in the fossil record.  These are modern plants and animals that can provide insight into genetics, habitats, adaptations and behaviours of ancient species.  Some of these include horseshoe crabs, legless lizards, various tree frogs, toads, caterpillars, ferns and fern-ish looking trees known as cycads, magnolias and so many more.

One critter of particular interest is found in the Rocky Mountains close to Calgary.  Ice crawlers are insects that live in ice caves or on northern talus slopes up to about 3,000 meters, who like it cold but not too cold (0 to -9 degrees Celsius).  You can kill an ice crawler by merely touching it because of our warm body temperatures. Very cool little critters.  Again and again, I flip through pages and see yet another fascinating animal and another and another…

Classroom connections again would lean to environmental science, art and language arts.


Template Design | Elque 2007