Jacob Riis's Camera: Bringing Light to Tenement Children

Alexis O'Neill (Author) Gary Kelley (Illustrator)

Product Details

$18.99  $17.47
Calkins Creek Books
Publish Date
March 18, 2020
8.8 X 11.1 X 0.5 inches | 1.05 pounds

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About the Author

Alexis O'Neill is an award-winning author who has also written for numerous children's magazines. She is an instructor for the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and a columnist for the SCBWI Bulletin. Visit alexisoneill.com.

Gary Kelley is the award-winning illustrator of multiple picture books. His awards include twenty-seven gold and silver medals from the Society of Illustrators in New York and the Best-in-Show recognition in New York and Los Angeles Illustrators' Exhibitions. He was elected to the Society of Illustrators (NY) Hall of Fame in 2007. Visit garykelleystudio.com.


"In 1870, Danish-born Jacob Riis immigrated to the United States, where... he witnessed the horrendous living conditions of New York City's poorest immigrants. (H)e took photographs and gave lectures accompanied by life-size reproductions of those photos to any group that would listen. O'Neill... presents his biography in clear, direct language that conveys the facts of his life along with the essence of his nature. Kelley's ink-and-pastel illustrations in muted tones capture the gray dreariness of the scenes as well as dark shadows of interpretations of the photos. A thoughtful, well-researched homage to an almost forgotten hero." --Kirkus Reviews

"In this picture-book biography, O'Neill's vivid narration and Kelley's aptly dark-hued illustrations combine to introduce readers to (Jacob Riis, a) social justice advocate. Riis...(wrote) about the poverty immigrants faced and the harsh living conditions in the city's tenement buildings. His writing made little difference, however, until he also captured the truth with photography. O'Neill highlights the positive impact his images made, including on a young Teddy Roosevelt, who used his power to make changes. An author's note, a time line, annotated examples of Riis' photos, and other back matter provide a broader perspective of Riis' accomplishments and the power of media to transform lives." --Booklist

"The compelling activism of Jacob Riis animates this beautifully illustrated picture book biography. O'Neill pulls Riis's life as a U.S. immigrant from Denmark into sharp focus, using vignettes to demonstrate how his experiences amplified his activism. Riis was outraged by the state of New York City's tenements and slums but was unable to effect change until he hit upon the idea of using flash photography to capture images of the decrepit buildings and their occupants. Kelley's expressive illustrations, created using etching ink and pastel, mix human touch and snapshot sensibility, and give a nod to Riis's photos." --Publishers Weekly

"When he was 21, [Jacob] Riis immigrated to the United States. As an immigrant in 19th-century New York, he learned firsthand how hard life was for the city's poor. Determined to help, he became a crime reporter and eventually a documentary photographer, writing books and lecturing to encourage change with his powerful images of tenement dwellers. Kelley's atmospheric illustrations portray the dark and dirty tenements of Riis's work while still balancing light and warmth. O'Neill's text is thorough and informative. (T)he author skillfully creates a fascinating biography of a man who contributed significantly to social reform. A nice addition to biography collections." --School Library Journal