Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Different Point Of View

There are authors' and illustrators' books, no matter the topic, when read you know you will learn something new.  There may be one fact on a subject, a subject in which you thought you were well versed, which will make you gasp in surprise.  From that moment on, you will become the proverbial sponge, going backward and forward, reading the text and pictures.

Last year I highlighted several books illustrated and written by Steve Jenkins, one in collaboration with his wife Robin Page.  My First Day by Robin Page and Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, January 2013) chronicles twenty-two newborn animals.  The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest---and Most Surprising---Animals on Earth (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, October 2013) by Steve Jenkins is a masterful work on all things animals.  Little did I know that in-between those two another stunning publication, Animals Upside Down (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, August 2013) was released.

What do spiders, bats, and birds of paradise have in common?  Along with many other creatures, they turn upside down.  A few of them, in fact, spend most of their lives this way.

Twenty-six known or unknown creatures, depending on where you live, are the object of this interactive introduction.  Readers pull tabs moving animals and sliding windows, open flaps, turn pages to reveal pop-ups and spin circles; each one an intriguing  revelation.  On land or water, readers travel the globe to explore and wonder at the amazing adaptability of each living thing.

While I am more than familiar with the abilities of a striped skunk, I was unaware of the darkling beetle's capabilities to duplicate a similar response in defense.  A fire-bellied toad is aptly named changing colors to ward off predators; the poisonous skin is a pretty good deterrent too.  Playing dead works well for a hog-nosed snake, a pale green weevil and opossum.  One even takes it to the extreme, passing out cold in fright.

Being able to move in the opposite direction, while looking at different angles than most, comes in handy for the nuthatch.  Lots of tail action on the part of a harvest mouse, an armored pangolin, a monkey skink and a woolly monkey aid in movement and feasting on food.  You have to appreciate the cleverness of the net-catching spider lowering the woven trap on its next meal while hanging above it.  As many times as I've watched hummingbirds, I've yet to see one upside down to get nectar.

When you've grown up boating on the water for pleasure or fishing, it's not uncommon to see mallards or other ducks, tipping their bodies to put their heads in the water for food.  But what the sparrowhawk does in flight to capture an unsuspecting bird is not something I have ever seen.  There's more than eye-catching pink to the traits of a flamingo.  Their beaks are nature's own strainers.

Turning around to leave a specially built home, hanging from a branch like a dead leaf, and being the only bird to sleep upside down assist each of these three in staying alive.  All of these creatures either originally or evolved to exist "outside the box".  Their point of view makes all the difference.

For the most part two sentences, sometimes three or four, define the unique characteristics of these animals.  They are clearly understandable, written with a choice of words to convey place and purpose, matching beautifully with the illustrations.  The name of the animal is displayed in bold text to focus the reader's attention.  At the back of the book two pages are devoted to thumbnail pictures of the animals with short paragraphs providing further information usually including size and geographical location.  (Who knew skunk spray could go not one, not two but twelve feet?)

Here is a sample of text.

A hungry trumpetfish lurks, head down.  Disguised as a piece of soft coral, this stealthy fish waits for its prey to come close.  

The contrasting blue, brown, gold and red on the book's cover with the bat looking straight ahead on the front and the spider about to catch an unsuspecting fly on the back, is a direct invitation to the reader.  The endpapers are a part of the book, every bit of space is an element.  A warm bright white supplies the background for Steve Jenkins' lively cut and torn paper collage illustrations which pop off the page even without the paper engineering.

Alternating the action taken by readers, pulling a tab to bring a change into a pre-cut gap, opening a flap, pulling a tab to slide sections into creating a new image, pulling a tab to make an animal's body move, opening pages to reveal a pop-up or spinning a circle to make an creature shift position, contributes to the constant interest, the solving of a marvelous mystery.  Purposeful placement of the animals on the pages serves to add to the overall excellent design.  Text is located next to or around each creature.

One of my favorite illustrations is of the weaverbird's nest formed of woven grass and palm fronds hanging down from the top of the page.  The bird, in bright shades of golden yellow, peeks from the narrow bottom.  When the tab is pulled most of his body comes out, upside down.

Reading this book is like going on a treasure hunt; each page turn adding to the bounty we call knowledge.  No matter your age Animals Upside Down (A Pull, Pop, Lift & Learn Book!) written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page is a fascinating look at these twenty-six individual living beings.  Its colorful pictures, enlightening text and sturdy construction on heavy paper make for a lasting book to be enjoyed repeatedly.

The link embedded above in the title is to Steve Jenkins' website.  It gives you a look at four of the pages, dissolving into the changes.  Enjoy the trailer.  

I am excited to be participating in Alyson Beecher's 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted on her blog, Kid Lit Frenzyeach Wednesday.  I love filling in my nonfiction book gap with many great titles, new and old.


  1. I knew about this book but have yet to explore it. Now I can't wait to get my hands on it! Thanks Margie!

    1. I pulled tabs, opened pop-ups and flaps and spun the wheel filled with anticipation on every page. These two are masters. Any you are welcome, Carrie.

    2. "And" instead of "Any" Really wish there was an edit button.

  2. Steve Jenkins's books are must-reads for me. I am reading The Animal Book right now and can't stop quoting interesting facts to everyone I meet!

    1. I think The Animal Book is outstanding, Elisabeth. I am in the process of collecting as many of the Jenkins' books as possible.