cover image Jacob Riis’s Camera: Bringing Light to Tenement Children

Jacob Riis’s Camera: Bringing Light to Tenement Children

Alexis O’Neill, illus. by Gary Kelley. Calkins Creek, $18.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-62979-866-0

The compelling activism of Jacob Riis animates this beautifully illustrated picture book biography. O’Neill pulls Riis’s life as a U.S. immigrant from Denmark into sharp focus, using vignettes to demonstrate how his experiences amplified his activism: “Often penniless, Jacob slept in abandoned barns, fields and cemeteries, and in homeless shelters that were so filthy and disease-ridden, he vowed to put an end to them someday.” Eventually a successful reporter, Riis was outraged by the state of New York City’s tenements and slums but was unable to effect change until he hit upon the idea of using flash photography to capture images of the decrepit buildings and their occupants. Kelley’s expressive illustrations, created using etching ink and pastel, mix human touch and snapshot sensibility, and give a nod to Riis’s photos. A few of Riis’s stunning images are included in the supplemental materials, alongside a list of his achievements for the social good. Ages 7–10. (May)