The Animal Book by Steve Jenkins

animal bookLynn:  It isn’t unusual to have a new book from Steve Jenkins to rave about.  His list of award winning kid-pleasing books is impressively long.  They’ve always been favorites with the older members of the focus group and with me too.  I believe that he outdid himself last year however with The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest – and Most Surprising Animals on Earth (Houghton 2013).

As always, this book is a visual treat!  Jenkins’ signature collage illustrations are again a highlight for browsers.  The overall design and careful attention to detail of this book means that there is an ooh and aaah on every page.  I love this element about the book and am appreciating it all the more due to some recent reading times with my three-year-old grandson.  He was captivated and wanted to examine each and every illustration closely and have the captions read to him.  This is no small thing as the lure of new Xmas toys was strong.  His older cousins were just as fascinated but they were more engaged by the information and the comparisons Jenkins provided.  This is definitely one of those “Did you know…” sorts of books that leads to lots of conversations.

I love the structure and organization of this book as much as I love the illustrations and kid-appeal.  Jenkins provides a definition for what an animal is and then explores those elements.  He also then provides chapters on Predators, Defenses, Animal Extremes and the Story of Life.  But probably my most favorite section of the book comes in the back matter that I’ll let Cindy talk about.  The twins especially enjoyed the Making Books section and are currently fully occupied in creating their own versions.  This truly is a book with a wealth of information for a wide range of ages and uses.

Cindy: Backmatter? Who can get to the backmatter? There are over 175 other pages to pour over first. Did you know that one of every four living things is a beetle…to the tune of 350,000 species of beetles?  Or that there are 3,000 species of the mosquito? All of which must move to Michigan in July. Okay, I made up that last part, but it seems that way.

Teachers will love features like the food web and the ecological pyramid. Or how about the chart of animal eyeballs? From one eye to thousands with a key to four different kinds of eyes…what a fun math lesson page 66 could be…

Okay, the backmatter. There are pages and pages of additional animal facts, a glossary, and a fabulous section called “Making Books” in which Jenkins details his typical process in making one of his books. It’s a great resource for budding authors and illustrators but it’s also great for children who forget that there are real people who make books. A video of the process is available here. Knowing that both ends of the focus group gave this enthusiastic thumbs up, I feel lucky to have gotten to peek at it at all! I have ordered it for my middle school libraries, though, and expect it to be just as popular there with my “animal geeks.”

Common Core Connections

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.5 Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

Using the chapter on predators or defenses, have students read about 3-5 different animals and highlight the specific information that supports the chapter’s focus. Then have them share in small groups to compare the information with their classmates.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.7 Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.

Using the animal eye chart on page 66, have students study the information on that chart for one animal then use the index to find additional information about the animal elsewhere in the book and explain how what they learned from the chart adds to their knowledge about that particular animal.

nonfiction-mondayMore nonfiction blog posts can be found at Nonfiction Monday each week.




About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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