The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Image
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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books:

True Blue
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 months.

Susan Kuklin

When it comes to nonfiction for young people, author-photographer Susan Kuklin has covered nearly all the bases. For young children, she has produced entertaining, informative, and reassuring books about such settings as dance class, nursery school, and the veterinarian's office. For older readers, she has provided an insider's view of issues like AIDS, suicide, teen pregnancy, and human rights activism; her intimate photos and interviews allow her young adult audience to feel both a sense of discovery and a sense of self-recognition. Not only do Kuklin's books serve a wide range of ages, they also represent a variety of cultures and ethnic groups. How My Family Lives in America, for example, looks at three different families, each of whom has strong ties to both mainland America and another country or place (Senegal, China, and Puerto Rico), while Irrepressible Spirit depicts adult human rights activists of varying races working in countries all over the world. Furthermore, Kuklin has also covered a wide spectrum of topics, from fireworks to basketball to guide dogs for the blind. Your average kid is bound to find something among Kuklin's works that will satisfy and intrigue her, no matter what her age, ethnicity, or interests.

Not only are Kuklin's books appealing to a multiplicity of kids, but they also are high-quality, well-crafted works of nonfiction. Her prose is concise, personal, honest, and well-researched. Her photographs, whether in black and white or color, are clear, thoughtfully composed, and natural. Kuklin's photos of the human body in motion are particularly stunning, even downright gorgeous; images of dancer Bill T. Jones leaping and bending with supple grace, or basketball player Cheryl Swoopes dribbling, shooting, and defending practically pop off their stark white backgrounds. Most of all, Kuklin knows how to "get out of the way" of her literary and photographic subjects. She wisely uses the actual voices of her interviewees to guide and shape her narrative (while at the same time seamlessly integrating background material from other sources), and her informal portraits and candid photos skillfully reveal her subjects' inner emotions and personalities, as well as their day-to-day experiences.

Kuklin's greatest gift of all is her ability to turn her subjects inside out, going behind the scenes and up-close and personal with her subjects, involving her readers in that which is internal or hidden from their view. Groups and places that would normally be inaccessible to kids (professional dance companies, doll factories, a New York criminal courtroom) and the tragedies, victories, and everyday lives of real people are opened up to inspection and consideration as Kuklin's books provide readers with "backstage passes" to the wide world around them.