Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee!

By School Library Journal

James VanDerZee (1886–1983) was a prolific photographer who used his camera to capture the beauty and dignity of his subjects. This picture book biography not only introduces readers to VanDerZee’s life but also provides a glimpse into the Harlem Renaissance and highlights some techniques used in early photography. As a young man, VanDerZee was the second person to own a camera in his small town of Lenox, MA. His love of his family and neighbors fueled his passion. The evenly paced narrative describes how VanDerZee moved to New York City and became a successful photographer, despite racism. Although he took pictures of a wide array of people, he focused mainly on the black middle class and occasionally on celebrities, such as Joe Louis and later Jean-Michel Basquiat. The refrain, “Take a picture of me, James VanDerZee!” echoes throughout. Through photography, VanDerZee was able to create a nuanced depiction of life in Harlem in the 20th century. The attractive illustrations, acrylic on canvas, skillfully convey the expressions and sentiments of the images that inspired them, with some original photographs included in the afterword. VERDICT Vivid visuals and comprehensive text combine for an excellent resource for biography collections.