Friday, January 6, 2017

PPBF: Antsy Ansel

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Antsy Ansel, biography of photographer Ansel Adams,
by Cindy Jenson-Elliot and Christy Hale.
Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature

Written by Cindy Jenson-Elliott
Illustrated by Christy Hale
Henry Holt & Co., 2016
Grades K-3

Biography, Photography, Non-fiction

Ansel was antsy.
He never walked—he ran.
When he sat, his feet danced. Even his thoughts flew about like a gull in a storm.
Ansel noticed everything.
And everyone noticed Ansel.
"Pay attention," said his aunt.
"Please sit still," begged his mother.
"Why don't you go outside?" suggested his father. So Ansel did, whenever he could.

Ansel Adams was a restless boy. Fortunately, his father understood his need to burn off energy and encouraged Ansel to spend as much time outside as possible. Mr. Adams even hired private tutors so Ansel would be free from the rigid confines of the classroom. On a trip to Yosemite, his parents bought him a Brownie camera and the rest is history. Ansel fell in love with both photography and nature. His restless spirit drove him to explore the wilds of America and record what he found. His unique vision of the American wilderness spurred people to serious conservation efforts and to appreciate the beauty of our natural resources.  Despite his challenges, Adams built his passions into a life full of meaning and purpose.
Half Dome, Merced River, Winter, 1938, Ansel Adams Via Artsy

What I Love:
You may not know his name, but you probably know his work. I am not a photography aficionado, but I had his image of a snow-covered tree on my wall all through my teen and college years. So I was pleased to find a book which could introduce a new generation to his art. Though, honestly, that's not exactly what this book does. Antsy Ansel introduces readers to the boy and the man he would become. It cements his importance in history, but most importantly, this book shows readers every child can have an impact if he follows his heart.

The author is obviously in love with her subject and her passion flows into every beautiful word. The text is poetic, organically moving from one page to the next. The collage illustrations convey the majesty of the outdoors and the same beauty and attention to detail which Adams himself pursued.
I was disappointed to read several criticisms of this book, namely that the publisher chose to illustrate the story with art rather than photography. Sadly, I think these readers missed the point. This is not a photo essay or retrospective. In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Cindy Jenson-Elliott says, "to get an entire life into 500 words is a challenge. So choosing a focus is really choice was to focus on what he called his hyperactivity and his connection with nature...What I really wanted to get across is what it felt like to be him. What it felt like to need to move and to be restricted from that by your circumstances."

This is a story about a boy who found his calling despite his challenges. Jenson-Elliot says, "The one thing picture books can do that a longer biography can’t do is really capture the emotional essence of a person." This book does that. I think Antsy Ansel is particularly valuable because, while it's been nearly one hundred years since Ansel Adams was born, educators and parents still struggle with hyperactive kids, kids with ADHD, or autism spectrum disorders. This book is as much about Ansel's emotional journey as his career and influence. I am putting it into the hands of kids who have yet to find their place and calling. I hope it will speak to them as it speaks to me.


Ansel Adams, An Autobiography,
by Ansel Adams with Mary Street Alinder 
1. Somehow I neglected to check the previous PPBF reviews for this title. Last week, Leslie Goodman  added a personal touch to her review of Antsy Ansel. I hope you'll stop over at her blog and read both the glowing review and the charming anecdote.

2. Learn more about the artist through his official website,

3. Author Cindy Jenson-Elliot has compiled excellent teachers guides on her website, aimed at getting children out of the classroom and into the outdoors. She has designed projects which incorporate photography, writing, and science to encourage students to be life-long learners.

4. Illustrator Christy Hale has also posted Ansel Adams related activities on her website.

5. Visit Yosemite National Park and see for yourself some of the wonders of nature which Ansel Adams helped to preserve. Too far? Visit the National Parks Service to find a preserve near you.

6. Use this opportunity to get readers interested in photography and GET THEM OUTSIDE!
  • Digital Photography School offers 13 lessons for beginning photographers.
  • The National Wildlife Federation suggests 11 tips for kids about photographing nature.
  • Canadian Nature Photography posted an amazing array of detailed instructions and activities for young photojournalists.
7. You can read my thoughts and resources for nature journaling on my review of Welcome to New Zealand. For an excellent guide to the intricacies of photographic composition, check out my post on Seeing Things: A Kids' Guide to Looking at Photographs and other kids' books on photography.

Welcome to New Zealand, by Sandra Morris
Seeing Things, by Joel Meyerowitz

8. Check out these and more Perfect Picture Books at your local library.

Reviewed by Patricia
Reviewed by Joanne

Reviewed by Vivian
Reviewed by Jarm

Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!
Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for Friday, January 6, 2017 available on Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher as part of the CYBILS Award judging process.


  1. This is on my "must read" list. I love Ansel Adams's photography, especially of Yosemite. You've compiled a fantastic list of resources -- thanks for sharing!

    1. Glad you liked them. I hope you like the book as well. Thanks!

  2. How fun, I just reviewed this book last Friday. I hadn't, however, read the sad reviews about the illustrations. I thought the art lent itself very well to the story. After all, the reader is learning about the boy who became the photographer. I give the book a big thumbs up! I very much enjoyed your review.

    1. I am so sorry. I usually read all the PPBF reviews and I always check to see if the book I review has already been done. I don't know how I missed that step. Thanks for pointing it out. I've updated to include your review here. I enjoyed how your personal recollections related to the review. Thank-you so much.

  3. I have to admit, I would love to see a biography on AA in black and white, but I will look for this one too!

    1. I think you should make one! Nobody has an eye for design like you do. Think about it. I bet it would be amazing.

  4. Definitely one to read. I love his photographs and the opening snagged my interest.

    1. I loved learning about the man behind the photos, not the stuff I had read before, but an emotional portrait of the artist. Thanks for reading.

  5. Joanne, thank you kindly for including a link to my blog review on Antsy Ansel. I included a link on my review to your post, too. I love the many bonuses you included!

  6. So many wonderful national park books published last year, on the NPS' anniversary! I learned, working on the back matter of my own book, that the cost of photographs is a huge issue for publishers. I can only imagine that Ansel Adams photos would be prohibitively expensive for a picture book. I think you're absolutely right, though, that there are also craft reasons to choose illustration over photography.

    1. Thanks. Sometime I'd love to learn more about your book's journey and your methods of research. I'm sure you've got all kinds of tips to share.


Thank-you for taking time to share your thoughts!