Sunday, April 26, 2009

Introducing Steve Jenkins

It's possible that you haven't yet explored the books of Steve Jenkins. With hope that you are already familiar with his incredible work, I would like to highlight him here. In case you haven't seen his books, get ready to be amazed. If you check out your public library for your reading, you might need to go visit that non-fiction section. Some libraries house his books with the general picture books and other shelve them with the juvenile non-fiction.

Steve Jenkin's signature work art work involves intricate and beautiful paper collage and his subject matter is typically non-fiction about animals. Ten of his books are featured below. He frequently partners on projects with his wife, Robin Page. What is great about many of his titles is that they include a lot of detailed information intended for an older audience, so these make great non-fiction reads for your elementary aged kids. However, many of them also include pages with short snippets of text along side of longer, more detailed text, so the short version can be read to younger, preschool aged children. Plus the illustrations are amazing to children (and adults) of all ages.

To check out more about Steve Jenkins, please visit his website. Also read below for a short interview that he graciously provided to The Almost Librarian.

1. What importance do you find in reading aloud with young children?
Reading to my own children is what got me started as an author and illustrator. I was trained as a graphic designer. When my first child was born, my wife and partner Robin Page and I were running a small design studio in NYC. We began reading to Page when she was no more than two or three months old. I think she liked the ritual, the soothing rhythm of our voices, the color and pattern of the pages. At first she was pretty passive, but she soon began to talk to the books, touch the pictures and -- naturally -- try to eat the pages whenever she got a chance.

My first son, Alec, was born when Page was two. We added him to our nightly reading sessions, which continued until my daughter was around 14 -- long after she was reading adult fiction on her own. We started with picture books, then worked our way through Roald Dahl, Garth Nix, Phillip Pullman, Lois Lowry, and J.R.R. Tolkein, with tastes of Dickens, Twain, Steinbeck, and Kerouac mixed in. Reading time was something we all looked forward to. It was the one time of day without distractions.

Now I read almost every night to Jamie, our 10-year-old son. We are just finishing The Graveyard Book. Before that we read Oliver Twist and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Having a third child gives me the chance to re-read some of the books I enjoyed best the first time around.

I suppose I should add something here about instilling a love of reading, about the knowledge of the world that the kids acquired, and so on. And that is important -- all our children read widely and enthusiastically on their own. But, no question, the best thing about reading to a child is the time spent together, curled up on a chair or under a quilt, sharing the experience of other lives and other worlds.

2. What were some of the favorite books that you shared with your children when they were young? Did your family have any traditions or habits surrounding reading and books? How do you think these early experiences have impacted your children today?
I guess I answered the second parts of this question already. In addition to the authors I mentioned above, the kids, when they were younger, loved Where the Wild Things Are; the Dragons of Blueland and the other dragon books (Ruth Gannett); Island of the Blue Dolphins; Pippi Longstocking (not sure my son was as crazy about this one); The Hatchet and its sequels (Paulsen) The Indian in the Cupboard books (Lynne Reid Banks); and, of course, Charlotte's Web, Trumpet of the Swan, and Stuart Little. We also read lots of non-fiction books about rain forests, dinosaurs, volcanoes, explorers, prehistoric people, etc.

3. Why do you think children are drawn to non-fiction topics like the themes of many of your books?
It's easy to see why children are drawn to fiction, and I think the lists above are heavily weighted on the fiction side because its easier to lose ourselves in the excitement, sadness, or triumph of a good story, one in which the plot pulls us along. Non-fiction is a little more work. But it is real, and I think that's what kids respond to. In my experience, children have a real drive to understand the world and how it works (sadly, it seems that most of us lose this impulse by the time we are adults).

I hope you enjoy the work of Steve Jenkins and will check him out from your library soon!

Actual Size
Actual Size is a favorite for kids who love animals. The illustrations in the book are to the actual size of the animal. For example, a gorilla's hand - you can stretch your hand on top of the illustration and see how it sizes up in comparison. (Ages 4-9)
(Full bibliographic info: Jenkins, Steve. Actual Size. Houghton Mifflin, 2004.)

Prehistoric Actual Size
A follow up to Actual Size, this book follows the same concept. The illustrations all show the author's depiction to size of various prehistoric creatures. (Ages 4-8)
(Full bibliographic info: Jenkins, Steve. Prehistoric Actual Size. Houghton Mifflin, 2005.)

Almost Gone: The World's Rarest Animals

The introduction to the book includes a synopsis of what happens, how our world is effected when a species becomes extinct. The book then introduces animals from all over the world that are endangered. (Ages 5-9)
(Full bibliographic info: Jenkins, Steve. Almost Gone: The World's Rarest Animals. Harper Collins, 2006.)

Animals in Flight
Published with his wife, Robin Page, in 2001, Animals in Flight introduces readers to many flying creatures. An appendix is included with additional animal information.  (Ages 4-9)

(Full bibliographic info: Jenkins, Steve and Robin Page. Animals in Flight. Houghton MIfflin, 2001.)

Dogs and Cats
If you read Dogs and Cats right-side-up from the front, you find out all about dogs.  Flip the book over and start from the back, upside-down and then you're reading all about cats!  This book is filled with interesting info for any animal lover.  (Ages 5-9)

(Full bibliographic info: Jenkins, Steve.  Dogs and Cats. Houghton Mifflin, 2007.)

How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly?
Answering this question and five more intriguing quests, this book by Steven Jenkins and Robin Page is another winner.  Each question is answered with six examples through six separate animals.  An appendix is included at the back with additional information.  (Ages 5-9)

(Full bibliographic info: Jenkins, Steve and Robin Page. How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly? Houghton Mifflin, 2008.)

Living Color
Moving through an array of colors, Steve Jenkins shows us animals and creatures of many hues and also shares with us why they are these colors.  An appendix with additional information is included in the back. (Ages 4-9)

(Full bibliographic info: Jenkins, Steve. Living Color. Houghton Mifflin, 2007.)

Created by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, Move! is intended for the younger audience.  Twelve animals are introduced through energetic illustrations and bold verbs which overlap.  For example, the blue whale dives, but also swims.  The armadillo swims, but also leaps.  The crocodile leaps, but also slithers, etc.  An appendix is included in the back with additional animal information.  (Ages 2-6)

(Full bibliographic info: Jenkins, Steve and Robin Page. Move! Houghton Mifflin, 2006.)

Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World
Another joint project by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, Sisters and Brothers introduces us to how other animal species get along as siblings.  Themes include competition, cooperating and playing games and animals include grizzly bears, elephants and cheetahs.  An appendix in the back includes additional animal facts.  (Ages 5-9)  

(Full bibliographic info: Jenkins, Steve and Robin Page. Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World. Houghton Mifflin, 2008.)

What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?
This Caldecott Honor title explores what different animals do with their various body parts.  For example, "What do you do with ears like these" is answered from the perspective of a bat, a jackrabbit, a cricket, a humpback whale an a hippo.  An appendix with additional animal information is available.  (Ages 4-9)

(Full bibliographic info: Jenkins, Steve and Robin Page. What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? Houghton Mifflin, 2003.)


  1. The books look great, and I love the idea of the appendices, adding even more value. Perfect for sharing with youngsters - love it!

  2. Steve Jenkins is absolutly wonderful! I have shared many of his books with my students in my elementary school library. I am doing a presentation with him, along with his wife this week. The kids just love their books.