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

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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.

Tana Hoban


Parents and those who work with babies and preschoolers know better than anyone that you just can't beat a well-executed concept book. Few authors and illustrators have produced as many concept books as Tana Hoban (over fifty thus far), and fewer still are as consistent as Hoban in creating works that are so sumptuously appealing to both adults and children, so flexible in terms of use, and so clear, both visually and conceptually.

Hoban (sister of author Russell Hoban) was a well-known and much-admired photographer long before she began writing and illustrating books for children, so it is perhaps no surprise that her illustrative photographs are often stunning. Brilliant rainbow hues, clear depictions of a variety of textures (from the coarse hairs of a dog's fur to the glossy "Soft Touch" numbers and letters in 26 Letters and 99 Cents), and fresh compositions are the hallmarks of Hoban's color photography. Hoban also knows how to make the best of black-and-white photography (which she used primarily in her earlier works), expertly emphasizing shape, line, and contrast. In the case of her photogram-illustrated works (Shapes and Things; A, B, See) and silhouette-illustrated board books for babies (White on Black, Black on White, What Is That?, Who Are They?), the high contrast not only contributes to the beauty of the images, it also makes them perfect for the still-developing vision of infant audiences. Hoban also adds a playful "guessing-game" element to many of her books, from the above-mentioned photogram and board books to books such as Just Look and Take Another Look. In the latter titles, Hoban cleverly utilizes cut-out peepholes that frame small parts of her photographs, enabling the audience to guess or predict the whole that is represented by the presented piece; a turn of the page reveals either a bigger portion of the photograph's subject or the subject in its entirety. Not only are such guessing opportunities fun for both children and adults, they are also educational, helping young children to recognize parts and wholes and to develop their skills at making reasonable predictions based on limited information (in this case, visual information). Not only does Hoban appeal to children through her use of bright color and guessing-game approaches, she also selects her photographic subjects wisely, with care and attention to children's interests and experiences. Familiar, everyday objects such as dishes, toys, and shoes, a menagerie of animals (wild and domestic), construction equipment and vehicles, urban street signs, and pleasantly ordinary-looking children and adults are the mainstays of her photographic content, which undoubtedly endear her books to young children everywhere.

Hoban's books are not only works of art, they are also extremely useful, in the best sense of the word. They are not so much designed to be read (in fact, there is often only minimal text or no text at all) as they are designed to be viewed, savored, discussed, and, well, used. At their very best Hoban's books provide multiple opportunities for expanding children's visual perception and language skills. Preschool and early primary teachers and parents find them invaluable for teaching and reinforcing math (counting, money, geometry, size), language (reading signs and symbols, descriptive and directional terms), and other basic skills and concepts (opposites, color names). What makes Hoban's concept books truly special, aside from their marvelous photographs, is their versatility. There is often more than one way to interpret or talk about her photographs and their organization within a particular book, making them useful in a variety of situations and settings. Shapes, Shapes, Shapes, for example, obviously lends itself to an exchange about the geometry around us, but it can also be used to talk about colors, counting, or location words. Furthermore, the open-endedness of a title such as All about Where--in which photographs appear with a list of location words ("above," "behind," "near," etc.), more than one of which can often be applied to describe the subjects of the photographs--make Hoban's books a rich source for one-on-one or group discussions.

Perhaps the title of one of Hoban's books says it best: Look! Look! Look! Look at some of Hoban's books yourself--or better yet, look at them with a child--and marvel at the rich and wondrous world in which we live and that Hoban is able to offer us between the covers of a book.

Bibliography (all titles written and illustrated with photographs by Tana Hoban):

About Tana Hoban:

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This page was last updated on July 1, 2002.