of the Center for Children's Books:
|Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books..
See the archive for focus pieces from previous
Nic Bishop first came to our attention with the wonderful The Secrets of Animal Flight in 1997. It looks like we've gotten a total four titles with his credit on them at the Bulletin (two as photographer, two as photographer and author); three of them have been on the Bulletin Blue Ribbons, and the fourth only came out this spring so hasn't suffered through a deliberative process yet.. So basically, Bishop's batting 1.000, which is an average we don't see much around here.
Photography tends to be treated more as a craft than an art in children's literature (there aren't many Caldecott winners with photographic illustrations); with nonfiction's tendency towards emphasis on factual merits anyway, the photography in such titles sometimes gets taken for granted. Fortunately, there is nonetheless a vigorous tradition of fine nature photography in children's literature, with people such as Jerome Wexler, Bianca Lavies, and Bruce McMillan using photography-and ingenuity-to provide arresting windows into otherwise overlooked or impenetrable parts of the world. Bishop is a stellar representative of this tradition (and apparently has the scientific background to enrich it). In The Secrets of Animal Flight, for instance, the stop-motion photography is quite simply stunning, but also informative: the eight-step illustration of a chickadee's flight gives a youngster time to absorb the mechanics of an action that's everyday for the bird and impossible for the human. Bishop loses none of his touch when he moves away from winged creatures, however, with his tadpole-eating snake and fleeing tree-frog (a picture taken from the underside of the leaf gives a vivid and elegant silhouette of the amphibian) memorably captured as well. He's also got a good eye for explanatory detail, such as the official snake weighing container (an empty tub of "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter") or the paleontologist painstakingly employing a dental drill to separate fossil from not-fossil.
He's no slouch at text, either, emanating an unfeignable fascination with the science he examines. He explains the mechanics of flight or the daily drudgeries of paleontology clearly and simply, but he's also got a knack for the evocative aproach (the comparison of bird takeoff to airplane takeoff, for instance, or the information that at the research cam "the wind blows grit into everything--sleeping bags, boots, clothes, food, even toothbrushes." There's none of the evident labor some authors engage in when they try to make science interesting; Bishop knows it's already interesting, and just lets readers at it.
And that's probably his greatest asset: bringing readers face to face with various species of science in all its fascinating glory. Not many books really give the natural world its due. If Bishop's involved with a book, you can be sure the world will be presented at its best.
--Deborah Stevenson, Associate Editor
This page was last updated on April 1, 2000.