This revealing biography of a pioneering photojournalist and social reformer Jacob Riis shows how he brought to light one of the worst social justice issues plaguing New York City in the late 1800s–the tenement housing crisis–using newly invented flash photography.
Jacob Riis was familiar with poverty. He did his best to combat it in his hometown of Ribe, Denmark, and he experienced it when he immigrated to the United States in 1870. Jobs for immigrants were hard to get and keep, and Jacob often found himself penniless, sleeping on the streets or in filthy homeless shelters. When he became a journalist, Jacob couldn’t stop seeing the poverty in the city around him. He began to photograph overcrowded tenement buildings and their impoverished residents, using newly developed flash powder to illuminate the constantly dark rooms to expose the unacceptable conditions. His photographs inspired the people of New York to take action. Gary Kelley’s detailed illustrations perfectly accompany Alexis O’Neill’s engaging text in this STEAM title for young readers.
“In 1870, Danish-born Jacob Riis immigrated to the United States, where… he witnessed the horrendous living conditions of New York City’s poorest immigrants. (H)e took photographs and gave lectures accompanied by life-size reproductions of those photos to any group that would listen. O’Neill… presents his biography in clear, direct language that conveys the facts of his life along with the essence of his nature. Kelley’s ink-and-pastel illustrations in muted tones capture the gray dreariness of the scenes as well as dark shadows of interpretations of the photos. A thoughtful, well-researched homage to an almost forgotten hero.” —Kirkus Reviews
“In this picture-book biography, O’Neill’s vivid narration and Kelley’s aptly dark-hued illustrations combine to introduce readers to (Jacob Riis, a) social justice advocate. Riis…(wrote) about the poverty immigrants faced and the harsh living conditions in the city’s tenement buildings. His writing made little difference, however, until he also captured the truth with photography. O’Neill highlights the positive impact his images made, including on a young Teddy Roosevelt, who used his power to make changes. An author’s note, a time line, annotated examples of Riis’ photos, and other back matter provide a broader perspective of Riis’ accomplishments and the power of media to transform lives.” —Booklist
“The compelling activism of Jacob Riis animates this beautifully illustrated picture book biography. O’Neill pulls Riis’s life as a U.S. immigrant from Denmark into sharp focus, using vignettes to demonstrate how his experiences amplified his activism. Riis was outraged by the state of New York City’s tenements and slums but was unable to effect change until he hit upon the idea of using flash photography to capture images of the decrepit buildings and their occupants. Kelley’s expressive illustrations, created using etching ink and pastel, mix human touch and snapshot sensibility, and give a nod to Riis’s photos.” —Publishers Weekly