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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | photographs

A Picture and a Thousand Words

As a reporter and editor for decades, I often heard people accuse my colleagues and me of “bias,” of having a particular slant on a story—usually a point of view that the accuser disputed. It was a common charge, especially if the issue was controversial.

But in truth, reporters are no different than anyone else. Everyone comes to a subject with some kind of bias.  If you know what a certain beach is like, then you are likely to associate other beaches with that experience; if you’ve never been to the beach, then you can only imagine what the smells, the sand, or the sea is like.

If you are pro-candy, you will read about candy differently than someone who doesn’t like it.

When you write nonfiction, these different reader perspectives matter. If we want to be thoughtful about a subject or apply those all-important critical thinking skills, it helps to acknowledge our natural biases—not to judge, but simply to understand that our experiences affect how we see things.

Tommy: the Gun that Changed America (hardcover on the left, paperback on the right)When I speak to junior high students, I often hold up a copy of my book Tommy: The Gun that Changed America and ask them what they think it is about.

“Why would I write this,” I go on, “and why, especially, for young people?” Then I might show them the paperback version, which has the same title, of course, but no gun on the cover.  “What do you make of that?”

From there, we can actually start talking about guns—what role they play in our society, what makes them interesting to readers and how they generate strong feelings—without having to debate the Second Amendment.

Because we live in such a visual world, I spend hours tracking down the right photos, cartoons, and documents to help tell a story. And even if these images don’t make it into the book, they influence my writing by reminding me what the world looked like and how people felt in that time period.

The images that do make it into my books can change the reader’s experience, challenging the biases they bring to the story.

Bonnie Parker

Bonnie Parker (photo: Missouri State Highway Patrol)

Consider this photo of Bonnie Parker, a key image in my next book, Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend, due out in August 2018. It’s a crucial picture, the first time she became known to the public. What do you think about her when you see this? What do you think she’s like?

Now compare it to the glamour shot below, taken just a few years before. Does it change your perspective at all?

Maybe one way to make student research and nonfiction more engaging is to consider our assumptions and biases by bringing images into the process. Some ideas:

Bonnie Parker (from the collections
of the Dallas History and Archives Division
of the Dallas Public Library)

  • Ask students to make assumptions about a book from the cover. Then compare to what the story is inside. Did their perspective change?
  • Pull out a single image and try to guess what it means to the story. Then, read that chapter (or picture book) and test it.
  • Ask students to search for a photo separately from their research on a subject. Did the photo enforce or change their point of view?

What other ways can you address how a reader’s experiences can impact understanding?

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What a Picture’s Worth

 

Time and UmbrellaWhen I was a kid, a visit from my Texas grandparents guaranteed horizon-expanding experiences.

For one thing, we were exposed to food choices not common to our little house in Minnesota’s north woods. I’m not talking about chili—my Texan father cooked that all the time. I’m talking about Grandma drinking hot Dr. Pepper instead of coffee. And Grandpa slathering peanut butter on his hamburgers.

From the vantage point of our small town, these outlandish approaches to familiar foodstuffs convinced me that the wider world held unimagined possibilities: apparently even peanut butter could be made strange and excitng, if experienced somewhere glamorous like Texas.

Another element of my grandparents’ visits was Night at the Movies. We’d crowd together on the couch, the lights would dim, and then we’d have: the slideshows, the director’s cut versions of every road trip my grandparents had recently ventured upon. I’d see captured images of exotic places like Oklahoma or Missouri, and I’d marvel at how much world was out there waiting for me. Those photos were enough to inspire me to grand imaginings.

Photos are also a perfect way to trigger writing road trips. Create a collection of quirky or outlandish images (like the one of mine at the top of this page, which you are free to use). Sort through your own photos, or take a local road trip with your camera in hand, or venture online to track them down. My writer friend Laura Purdie Salas posts a new writing-prompt photo on her blog every Thursday morning. Once you’ve collected your photos, hand them around your classroom, letting students pull out the one that most intrigues them. Then ask them to write a poem or start a story based on whatever the image inspires in them. Sometimes, you’ll find, a picture is worth a thousand words.

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There’s Nothing to Dooooooooo

by Vicki Palmquist

By this point in the summer when I was young, the charm of being out of school had worn off, I’d played every game on my grandma’s shelves, and I’d had a few fights with my friends in the neighborhood, so I’d retreated to reading as many books as I could, consuming stories like Ms. Pacman swallowing energy pellets.

When your kids claim that there’s nothing to do, here are a few suggestions for books that inspire doing things, thinking about things, and investigating more.

How Come? Every Kid's Science Questions ExplainedAs I was growing up, I believed that I didn’t like science or math. Turns out it was textbooks and worksheets and tests I didn’t much care for. Give me a paragraph like these two:

“One very big number was named by nine-year-old Milton Sirotta in 1938.

“Milton’s mathematician uncle, Edward Kasner, asked his nephew what he would call the number one followed by a hundred zeroes. Milton decided it was a googol.”

And the number naming doesn’t stop there. This tidbit is part of a chapter called “What is the last number in the universe”” found in How Come? Every Kid’s Science Questions Explained (Workman, 2014), written by Kathy Wollard and illustrated by Debra Solomon with wonderfully comic and lively depictions of the concepts in the text.

Other chapters address must-know topics such as “How does a finger on a straw keep liquid in?” and “Are ants really stronger than humans?” and “Why do the leaves change color in the fall?”

I probably don’t need to point out that kids aren’t the only ones who will find this book fascinating. Read a few chapters to yourself at night and you’ll be able to answer those endlessly curious children who pull on your sleeve.

PhotoplayFor the visually curious, and I believe that means Every Child, you’ll be inspired by Photoplay! Doodle. Design. Draw. by M.J. Bronstein (Chronicle, 2014).

Ms. Bronstein provides examples and workspace for kids to draw on existing photos (printed in the book), telling a story with those drawings or even writing a story. The book can be used in quite a few different ways … and then you can take your own photos and print them out for kids to continue having fun and using their imaginations.

Who Done It?A book that takes some investigation and one that looks like a book for very young children is actually a sophisticated guessing game. The humans and critters line up on Olivier Tallec’s game pages in Who Done It? (Chronicle, forthcoming in 2015).

A simple question such as “Who played with that mean cat?” requires looking into. Can you spot the most likely suspect?

For kids who are learning about facial expressions, body language, and taking one’s time to reason through a puzzle, this is an ideal book that will engender good discussions or occupy a few of those “there’s nothing to doooooo” hours of summer.

Who Done It?

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ill_matchboxdiary.jpg

Gifted: The Matchbox Diary

When a young girl visits her great-grandfather for the first time, her imagination swirls with everything she sees in his antique shop. He asks her to pick out her favorite item and he will tell her a story about it. She chooses a cigar box filled with match boxes. As it turns out, this is […]

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