Review of Animal Ark, photographs by Joel Santore, words by Kwame Alexander

Animal Ark

Celebrating our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures

photographs by Joel Sartore
words by Kwame Alexander
with Mary Rand Hess and Deanna Nikaido

National Geographic, 2017. 40 pages.
Starred Review

At the back of this book, the photographer tells us:

At its heart, the Photo Ark was born out of necessity.

I have been sent around the world by National Geographic magazine for more than 20 years to take photographs of people, places, and animals. There have been assignments to capture images of the fiercest predators, the shyest sea creatures, the most beautiful birds, and so many more. Several years ago, I started to see that people weren’t paying much attention to the fate of all the other species we share this planet with. Without action, and soon, I worried that many animals could go extinct.

The Photo Ark is my answer to this. By introducing the entire world to thousands of photographs of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and even insects, I hope we can get everyone following, liking, texting, tweeting, and even talking about this wondrous world of ours.

In the Photo Ark, every creature is equal. I use simple black and white backgrounds, which make all animals appear to be the same size, no matter how large or small they might be in the wild. Each photo also shows you the amazing detail of a creature’s scales, skin, or feathers; their eyes, antennae, or legs – each creature with its own kind of stunning beauty. A slippery minnow in the Photo Ark appears as big as a shark, and a tiny tiger beetle as impressive as a mighty tiger.

I want people around the world to look these animals in the eye, and then fall in love with creatures as dazzling as a pheasant or as odd as an octopus. And once we love something, won’t we do anything to save it?

The highlight of this book is Joel Sartore’s stunning photographs of 32 of these creatures. But they’ve been paired with Kwame Alexander’s poetry to make a powerful picture book and bring these animals to young readers. The poet chose haiku as the form to create a potent message and create instant connection with the reader.

I can’t emphasize enough how striking these images are against their black and white backgrounds. Of course, I got to hear Kwame Alexander perform some of these poems with the images flashed up on a screen. Unforgettable!

This is a book you need to experience for yourself.

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