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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America. Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Jamey Christoph. Albert Whitman and Company, Thomas Allen and Son. 2015. $22.99 ages 7 and up

"He glimpses whites-only signs
in shop windows and learns
that even if there is no sign,
it doesn't mean that a black man
will be served.

Boiling mad, Parks vows to bare
racism with his lens. He shares
his vision with his boss, who
points him toward his subject."

I did not know Gordon Parks' story. That is what I love about picture book biographies! I am more informed now than I was half an hour ago. His is a captivating and necessary story to tell young readers. My son knew him as the first black director in Hollywood and knew some of his work. It's always fascinating to learn what others close to us know! He was also the first black photographer hired by Life magazine.

In her new picture book biography, Carole Boston Weatherford touches on his birth and early years before sharing that Gordon was 25 years old when he bought his first camera ... a used one that cost $7.50. What a grand decision made, as it led to his life's work. So talented that he quickly has an exhibit of his work. That leads to the world of fashion, and a move to Chicago. His photos of South Side poverty leads to a government job and another move, this time to Washington, D.C.

There, he finds his calling. He becomes quickly aware of the plight of black families living a very different life from their white counterparts. It is a revelation to him. Thus begins his work to show the world what racism looks like through his camera lens. A cleaning lady in his workplace offers a poignant and inspiring subject. In his lifetime, with all the accolades and success, his most impressive photograph is one taken of Ella Watson showing her struggle to support and provide hope for her family.

"Gordon Parks - American Gothic" by Gordon Parks - Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection.

His is a fascinating story, and is told brilliantly by Ms. Weatherford. The images created by Jamey Christoph are equally compelling, assuring readers a close look at the very important work that Gordon Parks accomplished in his lifetime.

An afterword, an author's note and archival photographs are most helpful.

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