________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 21. . . .June 12, 2009.


It’s a Snap!: George Eastman’s First Photograph. (Great Idea Series, 1).

Monica Kulling. Illustrated by Bill Slavin.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2009.
32 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
ISBN 978-0-88776-881-1.

Subject Headings:
Eastman, George, 1854-1932-Juvenile literature.
Kodak camera-Juvenile literature.
Photographic industry-United States-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Inventors-United States-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 1-5 / Ages 6-10.

Review by Marilynne V. Black.


Reviewed from f&g’s.




George Eastman left school when he was fourteen.

His father had died, and the family was poor. George had to support his mother and two sisters.

As an office boy, George worked hard. When he grew up, he became a banker and worked even harder.

Banking was tiring.

“I could use a break,” said George, one day.

“You could use a hobby,” said his mother.

George thought about hobbies. He liked pictures, but he couldn’t paint. Maybe he could take pictures with a camera instead.

It was 1877. Cameras were the size of a microwave oven. And you needed lots of supplies to take a picture.

George was fond of making lists. He set out from home to get what he needed:

Glass plates

A plate holder

A tent

A heavy tripod

A thick piece of black cloth

A water jug

And, of course, chemicals!

George left the store loaded with gear. So far his new hobby was hard work!

internal artWhat a charming book! It’s a Snap! George Eastman’s First Photograph has all the qualities that a nonfiction book should have to introduce children to biographies: there’s enough personal information about George Eastman to give readers insight into his life, there’s appealing illustrations, and there’s touches of humour. Given its picture book format, this title will appeal to younger readers more so than the typical nonfiction book with such appendages as a table of contents and an index.

     Monica Kulling is a versatile and prolific author. Her books include easy-to-read biographies about such people as Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Houdini, books about animals such as bears and horses, and stories. In It’s a Snap! the text on each page is limited; it ranges from a few lines to several small paragraphs. Kulling writes succinctly yet gives sufficient information for a child to understand, for instance, the long and arduous process of picture taking over 100 years ago –– for the photographer as well as the subjects.

Back to the tent he went to develop the plate. George worked slowly and carefully. He could not drop the plate, or it would break. He could not spill the chemical, or it would eat holes in his clothes or burn his skin. Time passed slowly. Everyone was bored.

     Over time, and accompanied by his faithful dog, Eastman takes pictures as well as invents dry plates for taking photographs, rolls of film, and then a new camera with the film included. After many years, his easily portable Brownie camera was available for a mere dollar. His life as a millionaire and philanthropist is also explored. Appropriately, Kulling includes a few paragraphs under an end note titled “Get Snap Happy!” that outlines the latest innovation – digital cameras.

     Bill Slavin has illustrated over 50 children’s books and, as such, is a very apt choice for this book. His whimsical pen, ink and watercolour illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to the text. Interest is added as they are varied and include different perspectives and formats. Some are single page, some two-page spreads, and some are vignettes accompanied by text. Other illustrations are rendered as sepia-toned snapshots complete with old-fashioned corner mounting tabs. There’s ample white space which helps viewers focus on the illustrations and gives the book an uncluttered appearance. Some of these illustrations have no backgrounds at all. One such picture depicts George under the camera’s black cloth on the far left and, at the far right, a group of town people posing for their picture. The composition of the picture is enhanced by this lack of any background detail. In addition, the inclusion of interiors of houses and store fronts give children a view into a past time.

     It’s a Snap! is a little gem that will whet the appetite of young readers without their being overwhelmed with dry facts. Along with Photographing Greatness: The Story of Karsh, by Lian Goodall (2008), it is an excellent introduction to photography.

Highly Recommended.

Marilynne V. Black is a former B.C. elementary teacher-librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature (UBC) in the spring of 2005. She is now working as an independent children's literature consultant with a web site at www.heartofthestory.ca

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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