Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I See, They See, We All See

Upon waking our eyes send signals to our brains about the amount of light in our surroundings.  As adjustments are made shapes form, colors come into focus.  An entire picture becomes clear and distinct.  During our day our eyes tell us wind speed by the movement of plants and trees, the predicted weather by the shades of blue, gray or white in the sky, of birds and bugs sharing our space, about nighttime visitors by prints left in dirt, when danger approaches with quick shifts across our sight line or to stop, really looking at the beauty of a butterfly landing on a flower, the hues of pinks, purples and orange in a sunset and the silvery patterns in a midnight sky.

Despite the advancements in camera technology and photographic software, no captured moment is quite like seeing it with your own eyes.  More than once I've thought about the miracle of eyes.  For those in the animal kingdom eyes are unique to each one; essential to survival.  Steve Jenkins' title Eye To Eye: How Animals See The World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) brings new understanding to the critical importance of eyes to all.

For more than three billion years, all living things were blind.  

This single statement from within the The first eyes introductory paragraph is truly mind-boggling for several reasons.  A large portion of time is hard to comprehend but to not have sight, evolve and survive during this time is incredible.  Jenkins goes on to say, even though there are many different eyes in the animal kingdom now, they can be basically placed in four designs; eyespot, pinhole eyes, compound eyes and camera eye.  

Twenty-four eyes are examined up-close and personal. Eyes function to find proper food sensing a variety of color, protrude to allow sight in a larger area, or appear on stalks to detect shifts in light.  If the eye has no lens, as does the nautilus, water can move in and out of the pupil.  Sometimes eyes can number over one hundred as in the case of the Atlantic bay scallop, lined up along the edge of the shell.

Can you name the animal with an eye as big as a basketball?  Can you name the animals that can only sense food if it moves?  Can you name the animal that sees more colors than humans do?  High up on the goose bump scale is the animal who can see an image of warm-blooded prey in what humans think of as total darkness.

Then there is the creepy crawly that has four sets of two eyes; each with various functions to zero in on dinner.  In the super cool category are eyes which are in parts, looking up and down at the same time for danger, two eyes which can look in separate directions or eyes which move as the animal ages.  The size of an eye opening can narrow to slits to protect the animal from too much light or be huge compared to the body size to act as orbs at night.

Whether sensing only light, light and detailed shapes, multiple images or a single spectacular whole, eyes in the animal world are in a word, amazing.  Hunter or hunted, sight provides food and protection adapting to habitats.  Prepare for eye-opening wonders, pun intended.

 Author Steve Jenkins has the particular gift of saying enough but not too much.  His introduction hooks readers with the basics and then he moves to astounding details for each animal eye explored.  Precise in their information he fascinates readers with two to four sentences.  He describes to readers what we might see if invisible to these animals; moving in next to them for a private peek.  Here is a single example.

Two plus one
The tuatara, the last surviving
member of an ancient family 
of reptiles, has a third eye on 
the top of its head.  This eye is
sensitive to light, but it cannot
form images.

Twelve circles, twelve eyes, greet readers on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  The red is a striking background for these gorgeous eyes.  On the back the circles are repeated with black silhouettes of the entire animal body with the name in black beneath.  Opening and closing endpapers are a solid turquoise, replicating a color from one of the eyes.  The text on the front and back flap is cleverly written from large to small like the letters on a doctor's eye chart.  Centered on the title page is the opposite eye from one of those shown in the body of the book.  Can you discover which animal it is?

On page one Jenkins wows readers with a full page, edge to edge, illustration of the red-crowned Amazon parrot eye. His torn and cut paper pictures follow on every single page portraying realistic texture and detail.  Large amounts of white space act as his canvas for pleasing placement of each larger-than-life eye.  Jenkins has them across the gutter from the bottom or top, coming in from the right or left edge, alternating the design to heighten curiosity with every page turn.  Each animal is featured completely in a smaller image tucked in a corner.

One of my favorite eyes is found in the Atlantic bay scallop.  You can almost feel the intricate hairs along the edge of the shell surrounding the eyes.  The tiny blue eyes look like delicate pearls.

You simply can't read a Steve Jenkins book without taking away new information.  This title, Eye To Eye:  How Animals See The World, is no exception.  I highly recommend you add it to your library or classroom collections.  I know your children and students will be reaching out their hands to touch the pages enticed by the illustrations, intrigued by the words.  At the back of the book a page is devoted to The evolution of the eye, thumbnail pictures of the animals with size, habitat and diet information including a bibliography and a glossary.

More illustrations from this title can be seen by following the link to Steve Jenkins' website embedded in his name.  Follow this link to the publisher's website for additional visuals.  There is even more artwork from this post by Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

I am happy to participate in Alyson Beecher's 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge every Wednesday hosted on her blog, Kid Lit Frenzy.  Make sure you read about the other books bloggers have read by following their links.


  1. Jenkins is amazing! I must look for this one. Thanks Margie!

    1. He is amazing, Gigi! You are going to like this one as much as his others. I can't believe how much I learned.

  2. I like what you said - Jenkins has the ability to say enough without saying too much. So true! It's a talent that not all nonfiction writers possess! I love this book, particularly to look at animal adaptations. It's so interesting to think about the way an animal moves/uses its eye in comparison to where it lives and how it lives!

    1. Thank you Michele. He really seems to know his readers. He has a definite knack for selecting the most interesting facts. His books are simply great!

  3. I just watched an Attenborough special about frogs, who use their eyes in different ways. It sounds like this is another Jenkins book to savor. Thanks for sharing so much of it!

    1. You are going to like this Jenkins book, Linda. He talks about frogs in this one. You are welcome.

  4. Wonderful! I just checked our online library database and we have it. This is definitely the book I'm going to borrow next. Looks great.

    1. I am so glad that you have it, Myra! I know you are going to enjoy reading this and sharing it with others.