Holiday Gift Guide 2012 (No. 3): Books for Future Zoologists

December 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?If you have an animal lover in your life, allow me to introduce you to the amazing Steve Jenkins, whose stunning paper collages are the basis for highly engaging and informative books about animals. Why do these books make great gifts? For starters, most parents don’t know about them! Jenkins’ books are more likely to end up on the non-fiction shelves of bookstores and libraries than in places where parents would be likely to bump into them; and while they are technically non-fiction, these gems read like picture books.

The other reason they make great gifts is because they play directly into children’s inherent curiosity about the world around them. Jenkins uses the animal kingdom as a vehicle through which to introduce all kinds of scientific topics—and he does so while keeping kids as absorbed as if they were listening to stories featuring animal characters. He tackles all the obvious themes, like anatomy, food chains, adaptations, symbiotic relationships, and basic survival. But he also tackles more abstract concepts, like time, proportion, and scale—all through gorgeous spreads of animals and fascinating tidbits (see my complete list of favorite Jenkins titles below, including some for younger and older audiences).

What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?, by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, is one of my favorites for the young audience (Ages 4-8). The book begins with a double page spread showing close-ups of animals’ noses, all done with realistically dyed paper collages set against a clean white background. Obviously, there’s immediate fun in having children guess which animal belongs to such a nose (and the next page reveals the answers), but the long-term effect is the sheer amazement inherent in realizing the differences that exist across nature (there is nothing remotely similar about an elephant’s round trunk, a platypus’ flat bill, and a mole’s mop-like snout!).

The answer to “What do you do with a nose like this?” is revealed when we turn the page: elephants use their trunks to give themselves a bath, platypuses dig in the mud with their bills, and moles use their noses to see underground. The format is then repeated for ears, tails, eyes, feet, and so on.

All of Jenkins’ books come with a rich glossary at the end—this one containing detailed paragraphs about each animal and its signature feature (did you know that if you count the number of a field cricket’s chirps in 15 seconds and then add 40, you can get an accurate reading of the current outside temperature in Fahrenheit?!). If you can’t already tell, I get so excited when I read these books to my preschooler that I sometimes wonder if he’s getting as much out of them as I am. But then he’ll be brushing his teeth, and (through a mouthful of toothpaste) he’ll come out with, “Wouldn’t it be great if we were like the crocodile and had birds to clean our teeth for us?” And then I marvel at his random (but largely accurate) little brain, and I think, ah, so you were listening.

What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?

Other Favorite Wow-ers by Steve Jenkins:
Actual Size (Ages 4-8)
Biggest, Strongest, Fastest (Ages 4-8)
Down Down Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea (Ages 4-8)
The Beetle Book (Ages 4-8)
Just a Second (Ages 5-10)
How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships, by Robin Page (with Steve Jenkins) (Ages 6-12)
Bones: Skeletons and How They Work (Ages 7-12)
Billions of Years, Amazing Changes: The Story of Evolution by Laurence Pringle (with Steve Jenkins) (Ages 8-14)

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