Volunteers needed in August!   Click here to sign up.
 Site Areas: 
Printer-friendly version   

Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee!

Last updated Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Author: Andrea Loney
Illustrator: Keith Mallett
Date of Publication:
ISBN: 1620142600
Grade Level: 3rd    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Jun. 2019

Synopsis: James Van Der Zee was just a young boy when he saved enough money to buy his first camera. He took photos of his family, classmates, and anyone who would sit still for a portrait. By the fifth grade, James was the school photographer and unofficial town photographer. Eventually he outgrew his small town and moved to the exciting, fast-paced world of New York City. After being told by his boss that no one would want his or her photo taken by a black man, James opened his own portrait studio in Harlem. He took photographs of legendary figures of the Harlem Renaissance--politicians such as Marcus Garvey, performers including Florence Mills, Bill -Bojangles- Robinson, and Mamie Smith--and ordinary folks in the neighborhood too. Everyone wanted fancy portraits by James Van Der Zee.

Note to readers:
•  While you read, point out the cameras and talk about how it changes in size/shape. Additionally, if you would like, let the children know that the author, Andrea Loney, is a long-time Reading to Kids volunteer!

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Looking at the cover, what is the item next to the man?
•  Do you like taking pictures?
•  If you had your own camera, what would you take pictures of?


•  contraption - a mechanical device/gadget
•  nestled - to lie close together
•  sachet - a small bag filled with dried scented flowers
•  segregated - to separate or set apart from others
•  Renaissance - a revival or renewed interest in something

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  Why did James like taking photographs instead of drawing pictures?
•  Why do you think his photographs are so valuable now? (Because he was only a few photographers of that time to take photos of African Americans and his photos were carefully done)
•  Why are photos as important as stories?
•  What famous person, place or event would you like to take a photograph of? Why?

Craft ideas:
•  Draw a photograph of your family. (See how hard it is!)
•  Make a cardboard camera with cardboard (you bring), a section of paper towel or toilet paper roll, and string.
•  Make a Father's Day card. (for father, uncle, grandfather, someone who is like a father to you.)
•  Check our craft ideas on Pinterest!

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don't have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!