Daily Archives: June 13, 2014
Benefitting from Wildlife Books with Drawings and not Simply Photos
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Assistant
A few months ago in the children’s library I stopped abruptly upon glimpsing a book on the shelf that I had not seen since childhood. It was my very first bird book, the Golden Press Guide, Birds. Certainly it had an updated cover, but inside were many of the same drawings that started my birding in the fourth grade. Alongside the classic book were other bird guides for children. Some of them, like Birds A to Z by Chris Earley, contain clear and close up photos of the same birds covered by drawings in the Golden Guide. It was then that a question arose: Why have a bird book with drawings when you can have one with well-done photos? Aren’t we in the digital age? Why had Golden Press continued to use drawings when so many good photos were now available?
At first I thought the answer might be that the latest version of the Golden Guide continued to use drawings for cost-saving reasons. But near the Golden Guide were newer books like the World Book Science and Nature Guide to Birds, and the Usborne Spotter’s Guide to Birds, both full of detailed drawings and no photos. Is there something about drawings that photos cannot do?
I asked a similar question some years back to a talented painter who trained at Parsons and traveled to Nice, France each year creating Matisse-like water colors that hang on walls the world over. My question to her was this: “Why would anyone want a painted portrait, when they could hire a good photographer to do the same?” Her answer was instructive. She explained that a painting is able to express things a photograph might only accidentally show. A painting can reveal marks of character that endure over time, those aspects of heart that a single photographic instance will often miss. And that is why good portrait artists continue to get commissions, like Paul Emsley who recently completed a painting of Kate Middleton entitled, Portrait of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
Is there a sense in which the principles of portraiture apply to pictures of animals in general and birds in particular? Do we see good “portrait artists” of birds receiving commissions? The answer surprised me at first. A survey of some of the best bird identification field guides presently available shows that, while some have outstanding photos, others continue to offer painted bird drawings. Among these are The Sibley Guide to Birds, the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, and the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America.
The lead artist for the National Geographic book, Jonathan Alderfer, comments on using illustrations versus photography. “Even though a series of photographs can reveal minute details, most birders eventually come to realize that illustrations are more helpful than photographs in a field guide. Art distills the image of a bird into what our brains experience rather than what a camera sees in a single instant, and illustrations are much easier to compare … “
David Allen Sibley recently released an update to his 2000 best seller, The Sibley Guide to Birds. He was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal (Ellen Gamerman, “Bird-World Star David Allen Sibley Releases New Guide,” March 12, 2014) which reveals the following:
A perpetual researcher, Mr. Sibley brings his binoculars everywhere, even to the gas station. He is always sketching in the field, a process he calls “interviewing the bird,” which he said allows him to internalize each bird’s gestures and shapes.
The Sibley guide has one main purpose: to help identify and differentiate more than 900 species. Mr. Sibley’s birds aren’t the most lifelike . . . but instead demonstrate the most essential traits of a species.
“Sibley’s achievement has been to draw birds not as they are but as they appear to the birder trying to identify them,” novelist Jonathan Franzen, an avid birder, wrote in an email. “They’re brilliant drawings of ideas, of what the birder needs to be seeing.”
In all this there is a strong irony. One of the greatest bird artists of all time has a wonderful society by his name (Audubon) that publishes an indispensable bird guide full of photographs. But as we have seen, others continue the drawing tradition that even today plays a significant role in acquainting us with nature. Bird watching is an increasingly popular hobby with presently around 47 million Americans participating. If the latest Golden Guide to birds (Birds of North America, Golden Field Guide from St. Martin’s Press) becomes our childrens’ first bird book among so many available, we have done well. There will always be good photos, but drawings can express things photos cannot. It is good that we, and our children, benefit from both.
By Robin Ebelt, Reference Department
I love a good young adult trilogy, so several of my librarian friends encouraged me to read Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. This weekend, I finally plowed through it although I felt like I was reading Twilight again. I understand that Hush Hush is a book about the paranormal but this one didn’t do it for me.
Nora Grey, a sixteen year old sophomore, lives pretty much alone. Her father was murdered last year but we are given no details about that. Nora’s mother is on the road with her job leaving her teenaged daughter at home for days at a time. Sure she has a housekeeper/cook throughout the day, but she’s alone at night. Really?
In biology class, the teacher pairs her with the dark mysterious “fallen angel” Patch who literally gets in her head. Thus ensues the reluctant romantic relationship between Patch and Nora. Another creepy guy, Elliot, shows her some interest and hostility without a clear purpose. Even Nora’s best friend, Vee, gets swept along with the excitement of some attention from the new guys at school.
I have to admit that while I didn’t feel connected with the book, I was intrigued enough to finish it. I had to read on to find out who really was the bad guy and I needed some resolution to the weird things that were happening in Nora’s life. I wonder if Nora’s father’s murder might be connected to some of the paranormal activity in this book. I guess I’ll have to read the sequel to find out.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Librarian
Six members of an exploratory mission land on Mars for a three month stay. They are advised to abort the mission soon after, as soon as NASA notices a giant sand storm heading their way. They are packing up to leave when a piece of equipment blows away, taking crewman Mark Watney with it. He is presumed lost.
Imagine NASA’s surprise when satellite imagery show changes in the Martian landscape! Now what? How do you rescue one stranded crew member on a distant planet? How do you set up communication that many light years away? Meanwhile, Watney is keeping a log; charting his days and figuring out how to survive.
This is a classic science fiction novel – no alien monsters, just a man trying to survive on Mars. The tension builds nicely and the problems Watney daces sometimes seem unsurmountable. This is Weir’s first book and I agree with all the praise being showered upon him. I do hope he will write much more.