Monday, April 4, 2016

Coffee Table Book Roundup

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know how much I love coffee table books that have lots of oversized, glossy photographs.  I promote them in my workshops for student teachers, across the grades as a way to engage students. Whether a student is able to read the text of the book is less important in my mind than as a way to get a person interested in the topic.  If they’re keen enough maybe they’ll ask questions or even attempt to read the passages related to the pictures.

I’ve always been fascinated with macro photos. If this appeals to you too then you need to check out Hyper Nature by Philippe Martin.  The photographs are stunning. He’s developed a special technique making digital photos that brings the entire image into focus.   Blurry backgrounds and foregrounds are minimal and the creatures are in total focus.  This creates very sharp, almost 3-dimensional images.

His work is primarily of animals, insects and plants, found in their natural habitats around the world. Each photo tells us the common and Latin names of the living thing and details about how he achieved the photo including light conditions.  He does not always provide the location which is a minor quibble. I can’t say enough about the amazing, brilliant images in his book.

With spring about to get fully underway in Calgary, more and more bird life is becoming prevalent in our backyards and parks – at least for us in the northern climes. Life-size Birds: the big book of NorthAmerican birds by Nancy J. Hajeski, is one book to consult if you’re into bird watching and looking to hook a younger person.  With 95 birds featured including songbirds, raptors, gamebirds, waterbirds, among others we get to see and learn about them up close. This oversized book tries to show the birds on a 1:1 scale. For the smaller birds this is pretty easy.  We get to see hummingbirds, tits, warblers and wrens as they fly, feed, nest and care for their young. The larger birds such as the pileated woodpecker, bald eagle, vulture and larger owls are often depicted in part on the 1:1 scale to get a sense of size and also include other images on a 1:2 or 1:4 scale to see the entire bird.  All four sides of every page has a size gauge (in inches) to help with the sizing. Each entry also includes details about the bird's physiology, habitat and distribution. There are a few ‘features’ that focus on nest, eggs, birdsongs, bills, migration and threats to species. It’s a fascinating book that would be great in a math or science classroom teaching about measurement, scale, ratio and proportion.  I recommend this for grades 5 and up.

I should tell you right up front that I don’t get any kickbacks from National Geographic for recommending their books. I promote them all the time as they really know how to pull these kinds of books off.  Their explorers go to amazing places, often having adventures while taking remarkable photographs of their subjects of landscapes, people or animals.

First up are Ocean Soul by Brian Skerry and PristineSeas: journeys to the ocean’s last wild places by Enric Sala. Both of these books focus on the richness, wildness and beauty of the oceans of the world but Ocean Soul really looks at the wildlife that abounds and those that are under threat whereas

Pristine Seas showcases similar environments as ecological landscapes. Both give us what we love in these kinds of books; lots and lots of beautiful, informative images with well written commentary.

My last recommendation is Bear: spirit of the wild by Paul Nicklen.  This explorer must have nerves of steel and a big lens or two to get such close-up photographs of polar bears, grizzlies, black bears and spirit bears. There are shots of him only a few feet away from the bears as he makes his photos. Interspersed throughout the book are many contributors offering their personal perspectives about bears and their place in their environments. This book mixes pleasure viewing the images and informative, personal narratives. The outstanding kind of picture book in my opinion and one that anyone can enjoy.


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