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Celebrating Tana

In honor of the 20th anniversary of Exactly the Opposite and Shadows and Reflections, two of Tana Hoban’s classic concept books…

Tana Hoban
By Barbara Bader

Tana Hoban Greenwillow

Tana, circa 1991 (Copyright © Gail Alexander)

Tana Hoban was a prominent photographer of children who became the preeminent photographer for children. She took pictures that children themselves would want to look at again and again.

She was elfin herself, and that may have helped—she literally saw from a child’s point of view.

But mainly, she had the spirit of a child. She photographed children doing interesting things, which she had thought up, and she photographed things of natural interest to children.

Over Under & Through Greenwillow

From Over, Under & Through (Macmillan, 1973; Aladdin paperback, 2008)

Concepts, for Hoban, were not abstractions. She had fun with concepts.

Her book of collective nouns is enticingly titled More Than One, and there is more than one collective noun, or grouping, in each picture.

More than One Greenwillow

From More Than One (1981)

Her book of colors is a challenge: Is It Red? Is It Yellow? Is It Blue? The pictures pique curiosity; they tell a story.

Red Yellow Blue leaf Greenwillow

From Is It Red? Is It Yellow? Is It Blue? (1978)

Technique was routine to Hoban, a carryover from her commercial work. The secret ingredient was imagination.

Exactly the Opposite of a sunflower blossom is the back, or underside, of that sunflower blossom. The opposite of three children running up a flight of stairs is three children . . .

Exactly the Opposite sunflower Greenwillow

From Exactly the Opposite (1990)

Lollipops and balloons and other basic items of child life recur in different contexts. The maple leaf, in its autumnal glory in color in Is It Red? Is It Yellow? Is It Blue?, reappears, in black silhouette, in the baby board book Black on White as the archetype of a leaf, any leaf, at any time.

From Black on White (1993)

Together, the Black on White and White on Black images combined in the accordion foldout Black & White are the essence of Tana Hoban altogether: concrete and mysterious, and nigh inexhaustible.

Black & White baby Greenwillow

Tana's great-grandson enjoying Black & White.

Look and see.

Barbara Bader has been children’s book editor of Kirkus Reviews, the author of American Picturebooks from Noah’s Ark to the Beast Within, and a regular contributor to The Horn Book, and she has written about Tana Hoban in all three capacities.


  1. Virginia says:

    Barbara, Thank you for this terrific post!

  2. Fuse #8 says:

    And, might I say, that in New York anyway her books routinely are assigned by schoolteachers. So they circulate with great frequency, even today. Hail to the Hoban!

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