In 2002, George Ancona received the Washington Post-Children's Book Guild Nonfiction Award for work that "has contributed significantly to the quality of nonfiction for children." In this exclusive video interview with Reading Rockets, George Ancona talks about his photo-illustrated books and how he uses photography to offer insight into the everyday lives of children from different cultures.
George Ancona travels to countries without knowing exactly who or what will be the subject of his next book. Sometimes he just walks down the street and starts talking with people. Once, Ancona stayed with a family in Mexico and wrote about their son Pablo. Many years later, Pablo invited Ancona to his wedding. "There's no substitute for that experience," Ancona says. "Sure, I got a book, but I carry this in my heart all my life."
George Ancona likes to photograph real people living their everyday lives. His photo-illustrated nonfiction books, often published in English and Spanish, have featured a small-town puppet maker in Mexico and a boy growing up in a Spanish-speaking barrio in San Francisco. In 2002, Ancona received The Washington Post-Children's Book Guild Nonfiction Award for work that "has contributed significantly to the quality of nonfiction for children."
Becoming a photo-illustrator
George Ancona grew up in a lively immigrant neighborhood in Coney Island, New York. While his family spoke Spanish at home, his friends' families often spoke Italian, Russian, Yiddish, and Polish. Ancona's mother made their home a welcoming place, often cooking up tasty Mexican meals for visitors. Ancona's father was an accountant and avid photographer who used their bathroom as a darkroom to develop pictures.
During his high school years, Ancona liked to draw the things around him, such as fishing boats, the nearby amusement park, and people on the subway. While taking art classes at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, Ancona met a Mexican painter who invited him to study in Mexico, where he met famous artists such as Diego Rivera. Ancona then traveled to the Yucatan Peninsula to meet his grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins for the first time.
After returning to New York, and with a wife and three children at home, Ancona left his job as a graphic designer in hopes of becoming a freelance photographer. After some success with magazines, Ancona photo-illustrated various children's books and then started writing his own. His success means that he is now able to take dream trips, choose his own book subjects… and get paid for it!