August 11, 2008

Let's Go Outdoors, And When That Sells, Let's Go Other Places

Let's Go Outdoors, by Harriet Huntington & Preston Duncan

More finds from the history of children's books that used photography instead of illustrations or paintings:

I discovered Let's Go Outdoors in a used bookstore in St. George, Utah a couple of weeks ago. It was Harriet Huntington's first children's book, published in 1939, and it grew out of the questions her own kids asked her about the creatures in their backyard. The straight-up facts about bugs, worms, frogs, turtles, and snails are accompanied by rich black & white photographs by Preston Duncan, who is probably better known [at least by Google] for his portraits of Hollywood starlets. It's the kind of data dump that kids love to soak up, and it's easy to imagine the barrage of questions about snail mucus and cricket noises that inspired it.

Let's Go Outdoors, by Harriet Huntington & Preston Duncan

The book must have done well, because Huntington published at least three more Let's Go titles over the next 13 years, all in the same format and style, only using her own photographs instead of Duncan's: Let's Go To The Seashore (1941); Let's Go To The Desert (1949); and Let's Go To The Brook (1952). Amazingly [to me, anyway], I found all three, plus a first edition of Let's Go Outdoors, in a bookshop in Spanish Fork.

Let's Go Outdoors, by Harriet Huntington & Preston Duncan

The later books have more content, including plants and natural features like waterfalls and tidal pools. A review clipping in one book called it a "science picture book." They don't quite hum along like Let's Go Outdoors, frankly, and they're a bit too long for bedtime, but they're interesting nonetheless, and the photos--even Huntington's--are really beautiful and a refreshing change from the candy-colored palette of most kids' books.

According to the University of Oregon library, which holds Huntington's archive, she wrote and shot 18 children's books over the years, including titles about California's Harbors, Yosemite, insects, flowers, and ballet. Ex-library copies of the books can be had for cheap, and from what I've seen so far, they're a great, documentary-style read.

Search for out-of-print Harriet Huntington books on Amazon [amazon]

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