of the Center for Children's Books:
|Each month we offer a
focus on a particular author or artist, sometimes we use this space
to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like
to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books.
See the archive for focus pieces from previous
Steve Jenkins has only been illustrating for seven years and he's been writing for even fewer, but he's managed in that time to prove himself one of the most talented new creators of zoology texts for young children, depicting various animal characteristi cs and capabilities in kid-accessible terms.
Jenkins' collage illustrations bring more personality to the page than most photographs do. He uses layers on layers of paper (a casual count suggests at least ten in a few spots) and stock of different colors and textures, so that dark filaments in deep blue become a seaweedy ocean and a dappled cream becomes the desert; thickly fibrous brown tufts comprise a muskrat while orderly expanses of striated and corrugated steel blue make a blue whale. Cut paper is getting a bit voguish these days, but Jenkin s' remains distinctive. Though the fine detail of these illustrations' creation must have required painstaking labor, the result isn't a testament to effort but a unified whole, and his peering giraffe, enterprising tortoise, tender gorilla, and their col leagues have a fluid articulateness of line and body language rarely found in this medium. His compositions are also fresh: the gorilla expands beyond the page border, the gopher tortoise displays only his retreating hindquarters, and the sun jellyfish (t he world's longest animal) undulates across several pages.
As the writer of some of these books, he's demonstrated that his careful artistry extends to the text. Biggest, Strongest, Fastest includes some of the obvious (blue whale, giraffe) but some surprises as well open (the flea is the world's best jumper), and the consistent inclusion of accessible explanation and comparison (the Etruscan shrew "weighs about as much as a Ping-Pong ball") keeps the extremes grounded in the familiar. The cleverly conceived What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? cuts r ight to the heart of the issue of animal defenses, emphasizing not just Mother Nature's ingenuity but also the high stakes for the creatures doing the defending.
Jenkins has many artistic years ahead of him and will doubtless contribute books of many kinds (his illustrations for Pat Mora's This Big Sky, for instance, partner her poetry with lyrical yet realistic depictions of the Southwestern landscape). His early nonfiction is so on target, inventive, and joyous in an often underserved genre, however, that we hope he continues to explore the animal kingdom in his own inimitable way.
--Deborah Stevenson, Assistant Editor
This page was last updated on June 1, 1998.