THE PHOTO ARK: A Delightful Deluge of Animal Portraits

Lynn: We focus on youth books here at Bookends, but every so often, an adult book comes along that we think would be of special interest to kids. The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals (2017) by Joel Sartore is just that sort of book. In fact, this book may be even more relevant to kids than adults.

Sartore is a man on a mission. Since 2006, he has been racing to photograph the 12,000 living species under human care around the world. Driven by the grim news that 100 species go extinct every day, Sartore considers himself an animal ambassador and a voice for the voiceless. His photos have been featured in his own books (Rare, Face to Face with Grizzlies) and those written by others (check out our review of Animal Ark, a collaboration between Sartore and Kwame Alexander), but Photo Ark is the first all-encompassing collection of this project.

Photo Ark is worthy of a place on library shelves everywhere for its superb photography and exquisite book design alone. Sartore photographed each creature against a plain background, a brilliant decision that takes away distractions of habitat and size, putting the focus solely on the animal itself. In most of the photographs, the animal seems to look into the eyes of the reader. Sartore hopes this will forge a connection with readers that will energize public action. “The plain truth is when we save species, we are actually saving ourselves,” he writes.


An armadillo photographed by Joel Sartore, from his website

The book provides a spectacular introduction to the astonishing wealth and variety of the natural world around us. Each turn of the page reveals another superb image to be savored and shared, another fascinating creature to be discovered. Hand this book to any kid, and I guarantee hours of blissful occupation. I tested this on members of our Focus Group (ages, 6, 12, and 13), and each was totally absorbed. As inheritors of this world, our young people—more than any adult—deserve to understand what we all stand to lose.

As I was getting ready to write this post, I discovered the first of a three-part PBS series, Rare: Creatures of the Photo Arkthat Sartore narrates and provides a wonderful peek behind the scenes of his work. As you might imagine, photographing thousands of animals proves quite the challenge. (How do you get a a plain black background behind a rhinoceros? How do you take a picture of a furious hornbill with a beak like a spear who doesn’t want to be photographed?) The delightful show put me even more in awe of Sartore’s efforts.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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