When I was a kid, I loved National Geographic magazine. I won’t pretend I was the kind of precocious child who would actually read the articles. What I loved was the photographs.
I was drawn to their quality—the superb focus and clarity, the amazing composition—and studied them as works of art. I was drawn to their immediacy, how they placed me in a scene as no other photographs ever had.
Most of all, though, I was drawn to the way they let me peek into another way of life in another part of the world. I would pore over the photographs and wonder what it would be like to be that kid in front of me—the one tending cattle in Africa, or walking barefoot through a rainforest, or eating seal blubber in the frozen North.
Long before I ever thought of being a writer, I recognized the value of a good photograph.
Years later, after a stint in the Peace Corps, I began writing children’s books. I wanted to write about kids around the world—kids like the ones I’d seen in those photographs long ago. I was really excited when my first book about global awareness, A Cool Drink of Water, was accepted by National Geographic Children’s Books. I knew the photographs would be superb.
My love-affair with National Geographic photographs came full circle on a school visit in Norman, Oklahoma. The librarian there had asked children to choose a photograph in A Cool Drink of Water and imagine they were that person—collecting rainwater as it dripped from a roof in Nepal, or pulling down on a water pump handle in Thailand, or drinking from a melting glacier in the Canadian Rockies.
The kids in Oklahoma let the photographs take them to another part of the world. They imagined, and they wrote.
One boy imagined being a boy in Nepal, listening to the sound of the water dripping off the roof into his water jug. A girl imagined being a little girl in Thailand, so short she had to jump up to reach the pump handle and pull it down—and how good it would feel to stick her head under the pump and wet her hair on a hot day. A boy imagined hiking through the Rockies in Canada and realizing how precious water is to people around the world.
A good photograph had reached each of those kids—and made their world just a little bit bigger.