Senisi, Ellen B. 1951-
Senisi, Ellen B. 1951-
(Ellen Babinec Senisi)
Born May 18, 1951, in Little Falls, NY; daughter of William Martin (an electrical troubleshooter) and Elizabeth Anne Bowen (a teacher) Babinec; married John P. Senisi (an architect), August 25, 1973; children: Kate, Will, Steven. Education: State University of New York at Oswego, BS, 1974; State University of New York College at Cortland, MS, 1979; Boston University, certificate of advanced graduate study, 1987. Hobbies and other interests: Music.
Home—1834 Lenox Rd., Schenectady, NY 12308. E-mail—[email protected]
Elementary schoolteacher at public and private schools, 1974-79; developer of educational materials for a publishing company, 1980-82; writer and photographer, Schenectady, NY, 1992—.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, National Association of PhotoShop Users.
Distinguished Achievement Award, Educational Press Association, 1993, for a photographic essay "Fall Came"; Just Kids was cited among best children's books of the year in a special interest category, Children's Book Committee, Bank Street College, and named a notable children's trade book in the social studies, National Council of Social Studies and Children's Book Council, both 1998; cited among best books of 2001, Library Journal, for Berry Smudges and Leaf Prints: Finding and Making Colors from Nature; Skipping Stones Honor Award, outstanding multicultural or international book, for All Kinds of Friends, Even Green!
WRITER AND PHOTOGRAPHER
Brothers and Sisters, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.
Kindergarten Kids, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
Secrets, E.P. Dutton (New York, NY), 1995.
For My Family, Love, Allie, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1998.
Just Kids: Visiting a Class for Children with Special Needs, E.P. Dutton (New York, NY), 1998.
Reading Grows, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1999.
Hurray for Pre-K!, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
Berry Smudges and Leaf Prints: Finding and Making Colors from Nature, E.P. Dutton (New York, NY), 2001.
Fall Changes, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.
Spring Changes, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.
All Kinds of Friends, Even Green!, Woodbine House (Bethesda, MD), 2002.
A 3-D Birthday Party, Children's Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Shapes Where We Play, Bebop Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Photographer and writer Ellen B. Senisi has combined her several talents to create a number of well-received works of both fiction and nonfiction for young readers. In her stories, which feature photographs rather than drawn illustrations, readers are introduced to young people who encounter a variety of experiences that allow them to grow as people. In Just Kids: Visiting a Class for Children with Special Needs, for example, a second-grader named Cindy spends part of each school day in her school's special needs classroom and learns that each student, although struggling with a unique disability, is just a kid like her.
Senisi was born in Little Falls, New York, a small town on the Mohawk River. "I lived in that town until I was eighteen," she once told CA, "and by then was sufficiently restless to be on the move for the next fourteen years. By the time I ended up at my current home in Schenectady, New York, I had attended seven colleges, earned three degrees, and lived in thirty places, including upstate New York, rural Virginia, Boston, New York, and Oxford, England. (My husband, who lived in twenty-six of them with me, kept a list of them all). I arrived in Schenectady with two children and one soon to come. Shortly after the third one arrived, in 1987, I began work on my first children's book.
"I had gotten involved in photography about ten years before that. I got started when my husband bought a camera and insisted, after all we'd paid for it, that I learn how to use it, too. I felt intimidated by the technicalities but eventually learned and became absolutely hooked. I now own a number of cameras, all of which intimidate him."
Even in elementary school, Senisi loved to write, and she created a vast number of short stories, poems, plays, letters, and journals throughout her school years. However, once she reached college, she "decided writing would be pretty impractical work and switched from English to teaching. I quit teaching after five years when I realized how susceptible I was to photography disease and then went to graduate school for educational media and technology, which is where I got my only formal training in photography."
Senisi's first published work, Brothers and Sisters, captures the relationship between siblings from a variety of families. The volume reflects the "ethnic, gender, and generational diversity of modern families," according to School Library Journal contributor Jody McCoy. Presenting both the playful and conflict-riddled sides of sibling relationships, Senisi's "handsomely done" photo-essay was deemed suitable for "a parent to use with a child one-on-one, or for a story hour with a family theme," in the opinion of Booklist contributor Janice Del Negro.
In Secrets, Senisi examines the many secrets that young people encounter in their day-to-day activities. She "adds a new layer of understanding by exploring different kinds of secrets … and the emotions associated with them," noted Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin. Senisi "gleaned most of her information from interviews with a second-grade class," School Library Journal contributor Marianne Saccardi explained, "and young readers will easily identify with the various situations presented." Saccardi called Secrets a "satisfying presentation."
In Reading Grows Senisi introduces parents and caregivers to the stages a child goes through during the learning-to-read process. Highlighted with what School Library Journal contributor Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst described as "bright, cheerful photographs" of children and grown-ups reading together, Reading Grows illustrates the joys of books. Senisi's minimalist text augments the photographs, showing youngsters progressing from a knowledge of basic shapes and colors, through the alphabet, to vocabulary-building and realizing that, as the text exclaims, "I can read anywhere!"
Senisi explained that she is "highly allergic to the posed, self-conscious look of studio photography and most gallery photography"; she views her own work as "photodocumentary" in style. "When I set up my equipment on a site," she explained to CA, "I strive to become invisible so I can catch faces coming alive with natural expressions in a natural environment. I also listen to what goes on while I'm photographing so I can blend natural-sounding language with the images in my books."
In addition to her works of nonfiction, Senisi has also written and illustrated several fictional works, illustrating each with photographs of real-life children in situations reflecting those in her stories. In Just Kids, an unfeeling remark about the "retard class" uttered by a second-grader named Cindy results in a stint in the local elementary school's special-needs class, where both Cindy and the reader come to learn that autism, Down's syndrome, and epilepsy do not make kids essentially different. Praising the work—which was photographed in a New York state elementary school—in a Booklist review, Helen Rosenberg called Just Kids a "sensitive, informative book that immerses us in a world that many of us know little about." Praising the "bright, vibrant, and upbeat" color photographs, Whitehurst commented that they "project the powerful message that these children are not to be pitied; rather readers … are encouraged to … see that there are many different ways to learn."
In For My Family, Love, Allie, Senisi portrays a young girl from a mixed-race family as she does her share to prepare for a large family gathering. Linda Greengrass commented in her School Library Journal critique on the naturalism of the photographs, as well as their success at "convey[ing] the powerful image of a comfortable interracial mix."
Hurray for Pre-K!, was described by Blair Christolon in the School Library Journal as "a colorful photographic introduction to a day at preschool." The book features photographs taken during a New York preschool class session, and highlights the different activities that take place during a normal school day by dedicating each two-page spread to a single word, such as the words play, clean, read, sing, and make. Though Christolon noted that at times the short sentences of Hurray for Pre-K! can be "simplistic and awkward," Kathy Broderick commented in Booklist: "New preschoolers will feel both comforted and enticed by these school scenes."
"I work full time at the totally impractical but very fulfilling business of children's photo essay books," Senisi summarized. "I feel that everything I've done to this point—traveling, teaching, writing, editing, photography, and parenting—comes together in the making of the books I create. I love creating books, I love exploring the relationships between words and images, and the best part is moving on to whatever stage is next. Welding words and images with music may be next for me, or perhaps montages of photographs blended on the computer. I'll go with whatever methods work to show that illumination of expression I look for as I photograph children experiencing the world."
More recently Senisi told CA: "You never know what interests and opportunities will come along in this business. For example, I'm currently working on two books for older readers. One is on the Forbidden City in China, the other on a group of teen musicians fulfilling a lifelong dream to perform onstage at the Apollo Theater in New York. And after that?"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 1, 1993, Janice Del Negro, review of Brothers and Sisters, p. 348; August, 1995, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Secrets, p. 1953; May 1, 1998, Helen Rosenberg, review of Just Kids: Visiting a Class for Children with Special Needs, p. 1517; September 15, 2000, Kathy Broderick, review of Hurray for Pre-K!, p. 250; June 1, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Berry Smudges and Leaf Prints: Finding and Making Colors from Nature, p. 1872.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1997, review of Just Kids, p. 1841; November 1, 2002, review of All Kinds of Friends, Even Green!, p. 1613.
School Library Journal, December, 1993, Jody McCoy, review of Brothers and Sisters, p. 108; January, 1996, Marianne Saccardi, review of Secrets, p. 106; April, 1998, Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, review of Just Kids, p. 110; December, 1998, Linda Greengrass, review of For My Family, Love, Allie, p. 92; August, 1999, Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, review of Reading Grows, p. 150; September, 2000, Blair Christolon, review of Hurray for Pre-K!, p. 209; May, 2001, Lynda Ritterman, review of Berry Smudges and Leaf Prints, p. 146; November, 2002, Susan McCaffrey, review of All Kinds of Friends, Even Green!, p. 138.
Author/Photographer Ellen B. Senisi,http://www.ellensenisi.com (August 3, 2006).