Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Crafty And Cruel Creatures

If you were to ask a group of elementary or middle school (maybe even high school) students which nonfiction area has interested them the most in their reading lives; books about animals, wild and domestic, living and extinct, would probably be at the top of their lists.  Granted the particular creature (or creatures) which captivates them at any given time might be different, but books about animals are a constant favorite.  You've never seen excitement quite like the excitement of a student who has recently discovered some new fact about a specific animal.

In the autumn of 2017 renowned author illustrator Steve Jenkins released the first two books in a new series, Extreme Animals, for early readers.  Deadliest!: 20 Dangerous Animals (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 10, 2017) focuses on those animals who prey and protect using the most dangerous means. Usually the recipients of their actions are other animals but humans are not entirely safe.

For millions of years, animals have been killing and eating other animals.

The bull shark, growing as large at eleven and one half feet, lives in shallow salt and fresh water.  They are not picky eaters.  Never make the mistake of assuming a large animal like the hippopotamus is slow.  They can move as fast as a horse.  The king cobra, the largest venomous snake in the world, does not seek out humans but nevertheless is responsible for

hundreds---perhaps thousands---of human deaths every year.

If you happen to be hiking in southern Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay or Uruguay be careful not to lean against any trees.  The giant silk moth caterpillar, which is about 2 inches long, has spines on its body which inject venom.  Fatalities can happen.  Can you imagine a bird big enough and strong enough to deliver a lethal kick? It makes its home in Australia and New Guinea.  The most surprising of the deadliest animals are among the most plentiful and one of them is beloved.

Trickiest!: 19 Sneaky Animals (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 10, 2017) presents those critters who survive by their wits.  It can be a deliberate cry, camouflage, physical traits or unique actions.  They do whatever is necessary to live another day.

Survival can be tricky.
For most animals, finding food and avoiding danger is a full-time job.

In Central and southern Africa a bird, the fork-tailed drongo, sounds the alarm if predators are near.  Other animals flee but sometimes this bird does it when no danger is close in order to eat food left by the fleeing animals.  An alligator snapping turtle uses its tongue to imitate a worm, thus enticing fish.  Its jaws can bite off a human finger.  Did you know there is a bug called the wasp beetle which looks just like a wasp?  Predators quickly loose their appetite.

A leafy sea dragon is no mythical creature but a type of fish with the appearance of seaweed.  On the island of Madagascar there is a lizard with a tail which mimics old leaves.  What if you had wings which helped you blend into tree bark but if frightened you could open them up, revealing eyes on those very wings.  These large eyes turn this Io moth from prey into possible predator.

In both of these books there is a contents at the front of the book.  For each featured creature in addition to the main paragraph there is at least one extra bit of information.  A world map indicates its geographic location along with statements of the place and what it eats.  A scale supplies its size in comparison to an average human or a human hand.

In the Deadliest! at the close of the book is a list of the animals, the number of human deaths per year and more facts.  A two-page diagram at the end of the Trickiest! displays all the animals in groups by the tricks they employ.  Both books have a glossary and a bibliography of sources.

In each of these books the opened dust jacket and book case are identical, showcasing four of the included animals on the front, right.  To the left, on the back, a single animal is featured and readers are given a peek at a single creature presentation page in miniature.  We are also told about two other titles, Stinkiest! and Speediest!, to be released in the spring 2018.

With each page turn Steve Jenkins in his signature torn-and cut-paper collage creates animals lifelike enough to fly, jump, crawl, slither, or swim off the page. For each animal he chooses to give them two pages or a single page.  His design and layout are impeccable, employing balance with the use of circles for close-ups of details or as placeholders for text.

The Deadliest!: 20 Dangerous Animals and the Trickiest!: 19 Sneaky Animals written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins are outstanding early readers.  This author illustrator has a knack for picking those animals with the most engaging information.  Readers will read these over and over until every single word is memorized.  I highly recommend them for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Steve Jenkins and his other memorable titles, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  He has information on how he makes his books.  If you go to these specific titles, there are interior illustrations for you two view for each one.

I invite you to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to read about the titles selected this week by those participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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