Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Facing The Facts

There are some animals I would not mind seeing face to face if my safety is assured.  There are other animals I would never want to see face to face even if my well-being is absolutely guaranteed.  For the most part I am grateful to be able to roam among their habitats keeping myself from infringing on their space; happy for their unexpected nearness unless they are one of those critters I would rather avoid.

Truthfully, considering the changing conditions on our planet, I stand in awe of the adaptability of animals as they strive to survive.  A husband and wife team from whom we have come to expect the very best have a new title.  Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 7, 2014) by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page clarifies what we can expect to see when we look certain animals right in their eyes.

Dear tapir:
Why is your nose crooked?
The tapir has a funny nose.  At least, it looks funny to us.  To the tapir, however, its nose is not a joke.

With this first page the illuminating format used by this author illustrator team is revealed.  Each animal is given a question by the narrator.  They, in turn, provide a short, but descriptive answer.

From South America, home of the tapir, we travel across the ocean to locate an Egyptian vulture whose face is absent of feathers, to discover why a bold red and blue color the countenance of a mandrill, and visit a frilled lizard to discuss the odd arrangement around his neck.  We journey back to where we started to ask the red fan parrot why they may or may not be wearing a hat. While we are there we are astonished to note feathers on a harpy eagle direct sound to their ears.

The nose of a leaf-nosed bat, the mouth of a horned frog, the cheeks of a hamster and the body of a pufferfish are closely examined.  Oddly enough the horns on the bighorn sheep come in handy rather than being a detriment to movement.  Did you even know there is a type of pig called a babirusa living in the Indonesian Islands?

Below ground the star-nosed mole and mole rate us exterior physical characteristics to navigate, find food and dig.  Whiskers and gills not feathers allow two animals to function properly under the sea.  The wily spicebush swallowtail caterpillar sports spots on their tails to trick predators into thinking they are snakes.

Black-eyes, furry ears, and purple tongues help to discourage enemies, provide warmth and give protection from the sun.  The blobfish is a victim of gravity out of the water.  Ending up on the Pacific side of the globe we learn of the importance of a sun bear's long (more than nine inches on some) tongue, the cleverness of the shoebill stork's beak, the advantage of the thorny devil's spikes and the two main assets of the rock hyrax.

The comedic wordplay used by Robin Page and Steve Jenkins takes learning about these twenty-five creatures to the best level.  If your interest is held when you acquire new knowledge because you are laughing and it's fun, why wouldn't you remember the actual facts or the experience?  Page and Jenkins form their sentences with a specific audience in mind; an audience eager to explore the fascinating world of animals.  Read a couple of excerpts shown below.

Dear Egyptian vulture:
Why no feathers
on your face?
Are you sure you
want to know?
Really? Okay, I'll
tell you. ...

Dear leaf-nosed
Seriously, is that 
your nose?
I know, I know---it
looks strange. ...

This will be the eighth book illustrated by Steve Jenkins honored in a post on my blog.  His torn-paper and cut-paper collage pictures never fail to amaze his readers.  Authentic colors and characteristics are highlighted with vivid, bold backgrounds.  On his matching dust jacket and book case the red used in the text for the title becomes the canvas for the image on the left or back.  A pufferfish is speaking to the reader in reply to a question shown in speech balloons.

What's happening
to you?

I'm inflating! It's
just something I do.
I don't have time to
explain right now, but
read the book and I'll
tell you more.

Hues of gold, green, black, red, orange, blue, and salmon supply the backdrop for these animal portraits appearing on single pages throughout the title.  Only two, the horned frog and the blobfish, extend across two pages.  Texture and the smallest of details are portrayed through the choice of paper and intricate handiwork.  Research through reliable resources assists in the accuracy of the images.  They appear as if alive.

One of my favorites of the twenty-five has to be the red squirrel.  The quickness of movement is frozen in this illustration.  You can almost hear the squirrel chattering at you for interrupting what must surely be a day spent in storing food for the upcoming winter.

Steve Jenkins and Robin Page have delivered a stellar work of nonfiction in Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do.  We feel like listeners of a chatty, informative, humorous talk show.  The final two pages give diet and location of each animal depicted by their silhouettes.  A bibliography is included.  I have a feeling you are going to need more than one copy of this title for your shelves.

By following the link attached to Steve Jenkins name you will be taken to his official website.  This link takes you to an explanation of how the book evolved.  The publisher has produced a series of masks to wear taken from five of the pages.

Be sure to head on over to Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see what other bloggers have highlighted today as part of the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. I can't wait to read this book! How clever that it's told in interviews with the animals. They are definitely a dynamic duo! As usual, I love reading your thorough reviews!

    1. I freely admit to laughing out loud several times. Thank you for reading my review, Holly. I hope you get a copy of the book soon.