Author/Illustrator Steve Jenkins’ recent and sudden death surprised and saddened fans of his informative, engaging books about animals and the natural world
Now is a good time to celebrate and enjoy the many books we have by him (they never go out of print) and to share them with young readers. I’ll speak of Steve here in the present tense, because he is still very much alive in his books, and there are more to come!
Steve Jenkins’ career and books combine in marvelous ways his life-long love and understanding of science, of art, and of children, how they think and wonder. He’s never lost his playfulness or his own childhood curiosity about the natural world. His book ideas often begin with an irresistible question that kids (including his own) have asked. Or one that he has asked himself. How do different animals see? What do animals do on their first day? What animals are the stinkiest? What are tails actually for?
A great place to start reading or re-reading Jenkins is with The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest,Toughest,Cleverest, Shyest–and Most Surprising–Animals on Earth. Imagine a 208-page picture book! The Animal Book is a kind of Steve Jenkins compendium and masterwork. It combines hundreds of his stunning cut-and-torn paper collage images of animals–living, endangered, and extinct. His illustrations are so lively you expect to feel their texture when you touch the flat page. Facts in his clear language, both basic and believe-it-or-not, accompany these stunning animal portraits.
Jenkins expected The Animal Book to be one a reader could browse in, starting anywhere. But he has also organized it in a progression of themes and subtopics–from a definition of animal to family relationships, senses and defenses, to an outline of animal evolution in “Story of Life.” Jenkins always strives to lead his readers to an understanding of how the world works and how these facts fit into a larger picture. The time-lines and other infographics in the book are beautifully clear. His seamless book design makes the topics and their subtopics easy to follow.
A real treasure comes as an extra at the end of the book. In a section simply called “Making Books,” he shows readers how he gets his ideas and how he does his research.
Then he takes us into his studio, with his collection of textured papers filling color-coded drawers. We learn how he selects just the right paper to cut or tear for a jaguar’s fur or a toad’s belly, a terror-bird’s beak or a rhino’s hide. He also includes a graphic timeline of bookmaking from idea to finished publication. This book belongs on every public, school, and home library bookshelf.
So what are the new titles from Steve and his wife and collaborator Robin Page that we can look forward to in 2022? One of them obviously began with a question. The Animal Toolkit: How Animals Use Tools explores some surprising ways we’re discovering that animals solve problems and interact with the world. Disasters by the Numbers came out this month, and there will be two more By the Numbers titles this year. The series has included Earth by the Numbers, Dinosaurs by the Numbers, Insects by the Numbers, and Solar System by the Numbers. These books are chock-full of accessible infographics and are a middle-grade trivia buff’s gold mine. The 2022 additions will be One Day by the Numbers and Animal Facts by the Numbers.
Steve Jenkins has always had great, serious fun deepening his knowledge of animals and the natural world. His readers will, too. When you buy a Jenkins book for a child–or for yourself–get the hardback version if you can. His books are keepers.