Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

At The Top

There are hunters.  There are the hunted.  Sometimes the roles are reversed; the hunted becoming hunters.  It is about survival in the kingdom of animal.  With this being said, there are stories about predators not behaving instinctively.  They, for reasons we cannot completely understand, do not harm those they would normally consume.  They might even assume the role of nurturer.

There are also those hunters who are rarely, if ever, hunted.  In his newest title, Apex Predators: The World's Deadliest Hunters, Past And Present (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 6, 2017) Steve Jenkins presents portraits of some of the most fearsome creatures to have inhabited this planet.  They are, in a word, terrifying.

Predators are animals that kill and eat other animals.  The first predator lived in the sea about 600 million years ago.

Over time, from then until now, predators have adapted as prey adapted.  As protections for the hunted increased hunters honed their skills and physical characteristics shifted.  This is how apex predators in their respective habitats evolved.  We are introduced to twenty-four of those hunters.  We begin with the top members from today and yesterday, the Siberian tiger and the Tyrannosaurus rex.  Can you imagine a creature large and strong enough to

bite off 500 pounds (227 kilograms) of flesh with one snap of its jaws?

Six modern day predators begin the narrative, alternating with one on land and the other, on the opposite page, living in the sea.  The first is ten feet long, as the largest lizard and the second is twenty feet long with multiple rows of teeth numbering in the hundreds and thousands over a lifetime.  Living on the continent of Africa, these pack animals, although smaller than other predators, get their status as deadly killers from hunting in greater numbers.

In case you might be swimming in a river or stream in tropical South America someday, beware of a shocking resident.  The fossa only lives on the island of Madagascar.  Its climbing abilities give it a distinct advantage.  Prey are no match for the largest freshwater fish.  Can you name it?

The remaining sixteen animals are extinct.  They are listed in chronological order beginning with the most recent member that left this planet 11,000 years ago.  This giant short-faced bear stood at twelve feet tall.  Next in line is the terror bird rising up at ten feet tall.  It did not fly but

could run as fast as a horse.

Did you know there was a saber-tooth that had a pouch like other marsupials?  How about a bird with a wing span of twenty-three feet that gulped prey whole?  Can you fathom a snake that was forty-eight feet long and

weighed more than one ton?

As each extinct predator is named you can't help but wonder how anything else survived.  As we keep going back in time, the animals named end with an Anomalocaris

"strange shrimp".

At this time animals had not begun to live on land.  The text closes with suggestions of matches between present day predators and those from the past.  Who would win?  Jenkins does include a final paragraph at the end naming the deadliest apex predator to have ever lived.  He states his reasons for this statement.

As in his previous titles Steve Jenkins has a knack for including fascinating creatures and facts sure to intrigue readers.  When the first thing readers read about a past predator is that it was ten feet tall and as swift as a horse, Jenkins has your attention.  His choice to begin with the two greatest predators then and now, followed by those alive today and then taking those extinct and placing them in chronological order is an excellent technique for pacing his narrative.

For each creature we are given an overview as short as a single sentence or as long as four sentences.  At the bottom of each page in a smaller font, almost like a conversational aside, more facts are revealed.  Here is a sample passage.

Sea Monster
During the age of the dinosaurs, the seas were ruled by the Mosasaurs (moh-suh-sawrs) --- enormous predatory reptiles.  One of the largest was Tylosaurus (ty-lo-sahr-us).  Its formidable jaws were ten feet (3 meters) long, and it ate just about anything it wanted to, including other marine reptiles, fish, and dinosaurs that ventured into the water.

Two things flash through this reader's mind looking at the unfolded matching dust jacket and book case.  The first is I am so thankful this predator on the front, the right, is no longer living among us.  (Do you think its prey run as fast as it could to get away, froze in fear or died on the spot?) The second thing is, not for the first time, I wonder how Steve Jenkins can make his animals look as if they are ready to jump off the paper or pages. (On the dust jacket every element is raised.)

To the left, on the back, three other predators are featured.  Their heads and upper bodies are extending from the left edge and spine.  The text gives us a little bit of information about each of them.  The bold red canvas from the jacket and case is used for the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page, on a yellow background, two predators, from the present and past, appear above and frame the text.

Throughout the body of the book a crisp white background provides the best way to showcase the torn-and-cut-paper collage used to make these pictures.  You can't look at these and not be amazed at the detail and animation present in them.  Each animal is a study in their stunning physical characteristics.  Jenkins may choose to show us only the head or the entire body.  In the bottom corner of each page a comparison is made with the size of the animal and the size of an average human being.  The animal's size is given in feet and meters.

One of the most frightening of the illustrations is the first picture included with the introduction.  It is a close-up of the terror bird (now extinct).  We are shown only the head and a portion of the neck.  The feathers look as though a wind recently ruffled them.  The eye is piercing with a spark-of-life light.  The beak is downright treacherous.  Jenkins does include the bird again so we can view the entire body, ten feet tall.

Readers who crave nonfiction will pass this book, person to person, never giving it a minute on bookshelves.  Apex Predators: The World's Deadliest Hunters, Past And Present written and illustrated by Steven Jenkins is captivating from beginning to end.  You will want to have it on your professional bookshelves.  I would be willing to predict readers who don't normally read nonfiction will have a hard time resisting this title.  If you are a fan of Steve Jenkins' work, you'll want a copy for home too.  At the close of the book a bibliography of books and websites is shown.

To learn more about Steve Jenkins and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  This page on his website is all about his bookmaking in general.  This link takes you to the process for creating this specific title.  This document is an educator's guide for nine of Steve Jenkins' books including this title.  Four years ago Steve was interviewed at MackinVIACommunity.

Make sure you take a few moments to stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

1 comment:

  1. I hadn't seen this yet. Thanks for sharing. This will definitely intrigue those who love the versus and who will win books!