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Apr 28 / Adrianne Driver

Photographic essays

Emily Ellison

The photographic essay is an interesting resource for children to use for either school work or pleasure reading. While almost all nonfiction books contain some mixture of photographs and text within their pages, there are several subtle yet distinct qualities of both the text and the pictures that make a nonfiction book a photographic essay. First, the essay “relies on the camera in different ways: to particularize general information, to document emotion, and to assure the reader of the truth in an essentially journalistic fashion” (Kiefer 2010). So, in layman’s terms, the photographic essay is the product of the text and the photos working in collaboration to create a realistic story that is conveyed upon the page to the reader. These essays with the direct link to the text allow for the reader to have a better understanding of more abstract or unfamiliar aspects of the subject of the essay.  The larger pictures that accompany the text to create the story allow for a much more concentrated view on the subject matter.

Another defining point of photo essays is that they often have text captions associated with the image presented; they present a story told through these images combined with text. Often, the photographs that are incorporated into the work are specifically taken for the book by reputable photographers. Photographic essays come in all different levels of complexity and at a variety of reading levels. These additions are so important because as Common Core is implemented, more and more materials feature the journalistic aspects of the photographic essay.

The photographic essay topics on animals are quite numerous. They can display the social behavior in animals, their culture, habitats, and realistic perspective on the lives that they live. The photos included in these are generally up-close and detailed, giving the reader a perfect view of the creature in question. Of course, photo essays are not just limited to animals; they cover a wide range of topics including history, science, social and political issues, and current events. A great example of a creator of children’s nonfiction photographic essays is Nic Bishop, one of the most well known photographers for nonfiction children’s materials.

Photo essays are great for reports, presentations, and follow Common Core reading standards, and will serve well in the education of children on any number of subjects.  These books are great for any project or recreational reading.

A list of photographic essays focused on animals:

The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frog: a Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle

Jimmy the Joey: The True Story of an Amazing Koala Rescue by Deborah Lee Rose and Susan Kelly

Lizards by Nic Bishop

Marsupials by Nic Bishop

Owen & Mzee: The Language of Friendship by Isabela Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, Dr. Paula Kahumbu, and Peter Greste.

The Snake Scientist by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop

The Tarantula Scientist by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop



Kiefer, Barbara. (2010). Charlotte Huck’s Children’s Literature. (10th ed). Boston: McGraw-Hill.