Steve Jenkins (1952-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1952, in North Carolina; three Education: School of Design, North Carolina State University, received B.A. and M.A.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Houghton Mifflin, 222 Berkeley St., Boston, MA 02116-3764.
Graphic designer; illustrator and author.
Booklist Editor's Choice citation, 1995, for Biggest, Strongest, Fastest, and 2001, for Slap, Squeak, and Scatter: How Animals Communicate; Scientific American Young Readers Book Award, 1996, for Big and Little; Booklist Editor's Choice citation, 1997, and Outstanding Trade Book for Children citation, National Science Teachers Association, 1998, for What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You?; named to list of recommended books, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), 1998, for Animal Dads; School Library Journal best books of the year citation, 1999, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Nonfiction, and American Library Association Notable Children's Book designation, both 2000, all for The Top of the World: Climbing Mount Everest; Booklist Editor's Choice citation, and School Library Journal best books of the year citation, both 2002, and NCTE Orbis Pictus Recommended Book citation, 2003, all for Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution; Caldecott Honor book, 2004, for What Do You Do with a Tail like This?
Duck's Breath and Mouse Pie: A Collection of Animal Superstitions, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1994.
Biggest, Strongest, Fastest, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1995.
Looking Down, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.
Big and Little, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1996.
What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You?, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997.
Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1998.
The Top of the World: Climbing Mount Everest, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.
Slap, Squeak, and Scatter: How Animals Communicate, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.
(With wife, Robin Page) Animals in Flight, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.
Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.
(With wife, Robin Page) What Do You Do with a Tail like This?, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.
(With father, Alvin Jenkins) Next Stop, Neptune: Experiencing the Solar System, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.
Actual Size, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.
Janet Horowitz and Kathy Faggella, My Dad, Stewart, Tabori & Chang (New York, NY), 1991.
Janet Horowitz and Kathy Faggella, My Mom, Stewart, Tabori & Chang (New York, NY), 1991.
Janet Horowitz and Kathy Faggella, My School, Stewart, Tabori & Chang (New York, NY), 1991.
Janet Horowitz and Kathy Faggella, My Town, Stewart, Tabori & Chang (New York, NY), 1991.
Janet Horowitz and Kathy Faggella, My Pet, Stewart, Tabori & Chang (New York, NY), 1992.
Marc Robinson, Cock-a-Doodle-Doo!: What Does It Sound like to You?, Stewart, Tabori & Chang (New York, NY), 1993.
Linda Capus Riley, Elephants Swim, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.
Sneed B. Collard, Animal Dads, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997.
Pat Mora, This Big Sky, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.
Sneed B. Collard, Making Animal Babies, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.
Deborah Lee Rose, Into the A, B, Sea: An Ocean Alphabet, Scholastic Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Anne F. Rockwell, Bugs Are Insects, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Deborah Lee Rose, One Nighttime Sea, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.
Wendy Pfeffer, Wiggling Worms, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Brenda Z. Guiberson, Rain, Rain, Rain Forest, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2004.
A braille version of The Top of the World was produced by National Braille Press (Boston, MA), 2000; a sound recording of The Top of the World was produced by Volunteer Services for the Visually Handicapped (Milwaukee, WI), 2000.
Steve Jenkins had been illustrating children's books for a mere nine years, and his stint as a children's book author was even more brief when he was awarded the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Nonfiction for The Top of the World: Climbing Mount Everest. In his acceptance speech, Jenkins commented, "In my books, I try to present straightforward information in a context that makes sense to children. Children don't need anyone to give them a sense of wonder; they already have that. But they do need a way to incorporate the various bits and pieces of knowledge they acquire into some logical picture of the world. For me, science provides the most elegant and satisfying way to construct this picture."
Jenkins inherited his love of both science and art from his father, a physicist who was also, as he stated in his speech, a "frustrated artist." As a child, Jenkins was fascinated with science and nature and loved to draw and paint. The elder Jenkins encouraged his son in both pursuits, and father and son collaborated on science projects when Jenkins was young. According to a biography on the Houghton Mifflin Web site, the Jenkins's "more successful efforts involved capturing and drawing insects and small reptiles, assembling animal scrap-books, and observing an eclipse."
Jenkins grew up believing he would become a scientist; however, in college he decided, on a "whim," to major in design. He and his wife, Robin Page, whom he had met at college, moved to New York, NY, where they both worked in commercial design. "I loved it, and I worked contentedly as a graphic designer for twenty years without thinking too much about the path that I had chosen," Jenkins commented in his speech. "I truly stumbled into making children's books and feel incredibly lucky to have found a way to unite my early interest in science and my chosen career of creating art."
Jenkins and Page's design projects included book design; as Jenkins explained in an interview on the Children's Literature Web site: "While working on a book design project for Stewart, Tabori & Chang, I suggested to the editor that I also illustrate the books we were designing, and she agreed." It didn't take long for Jenkins to submit a proposal to another publisher, and his career as a children's book author and illustrator was launched.
Jenkins' eye for design and use of an unusual medium for books—paper collage—has garnered wide acclaim. In their respective reviews of Looking Down and Big and Little for School Library Journal, John Peters and Caroline Ward made particular note of the medium. "Using neat, sharp-edged paper collages and pure, simple colors, Jenkins convincingly conveys, better than most aerial photography, both a sense of height and an almost vertiginous feeling of movement," wrote Peters. In her review, Ward commented that Jenkins' "distinctive cut-paper collages are real show-stoppers .… Through an artful use of color and texture, the marbleized skin of the python and the wrinkled hide of the crocodile seem amazingly real." In a review of Actual Size for Horn Book, Lauren E. Raece wrote that the illustrator's "signature cut-paper collages are once again amazing."
Jenkins has also been hailed for the content and composition of the books he has created. In Looking Down, he combines the unusual with the factual in a wordless book that takes its audience on a ride from the outer reaches of space to spots on a ladybug's back seen from the perspective of a child looking through a magnifying glass. Elizabeth S. Watson, reviewing the book in Horn Book, wrote: "Set in the context of an astronaut viewing a rapidly approaching Earth, the book provides a perspective easily understood without a text. Rivers, coastlines, city blocks, and farms surrounded by neatly planted fields—all have their places on planet Earth.… Beautiful, engaging, and full of possibilities for discussion, the book will be a welcome addition to the collections of young science enthusiasts."
A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest "provides jaw-dropping facts and extremely elegant paper collages to illustrate the amazing natural world. Readers are introduced to the deepest ocean trench, the highest mountain …, the longest river, the hottest patch, the coldest, the most active volcanoes, the most extreme tides." Anne Chapman Callaghan, writing for School Library Journal, commented that the visuals of the book give its "young readers a full understanding of how amazing these natural wonders are.… This eye-catching introduction to geography will find a lot of use in libraries and classrooms."
In several of his works, Jenkins uses sidebars or paragraphs at the end of the book to provide explanations or additional important facts in a manner that allows the visual theme to flow freely. One such book is Duck's Breath and Mouse Pie, which details seventeen different superstitions about animals—a black cat walking across your path brings bad luck, for example. As Sandra Welzenbach commented in School Library Journal, the appended information about how, when, where, and why such a superstition began makes this "a great learning and teaching tool and an enjoyable picture book."
In Big and Little, Jenkins' subjects are creatures from the animal kingdom that give the reader a marvelous concept of size. Using contrasting, colorful, collage images—such as an ostrich and a hummingbird, a sea otter and an elephant seal—Jenkins applies just one line of text to comment on the contrasts. Then, in the final pages, he puts all the animals into perspective relative to each other, providing the young reader with a cohesive concept. In this book, Jenkins also shares his love of and respect for nature. "As well as offering an inventive exploration of the concepts of big and little," wrote Ward in School Library Journal, "this title serves as an introduction to a group of animals, several of which are endangered. At the back of the book, a paragraph about each one extends the brief text."
Along the same lines, Biggest, Strongest, Fastest portrays the beauty of the animal kingdom while providing an excellent learning forum. In Teaching Children Mathematics Eunice Hendrix-Martin described the mathematical thought processes utilized by students with whom she has used the book as a tool to develop skills such as estimating, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, data collection, organization, and usage. "I shared this book with my third-and fourth-grade students, hoping it would spark an interest in using these facts to investigate comparative lengths and heights. After we read the book, a lively discussion took place about which animal the students found most interesting." Then the children were asked if they could use their own height to measure some of the animals in order to understand how big they really are. Hendrix-Martin wrote: "Biggest, Strongest, Fastest provided animal facts that were of interest to students and that could be used in a variety of ways.…By using themselves as a unit of measure, students had a real-world connection to the problem."
In Slap, Squeak, and Scatter: How Animals Communicate Jenkins delves into animal behavior, and topics range from a honeybee's dance that tells her hive-mates where she found food and how they can find it too to what a cat is saying when it rubs its head on its owner's leg. "There are so many different ways and reasons why animals communicate," wrote Hazel Rochman in Booklist. "Each double-page spread could be expanded into a book of its own. Children will find this an exciting introduction to the wonder of zoology, and many will go from here to learn more."
Jenkins focuses on one of the big pictures of science in Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution. In creating one of the few books to contain a guide to evolution geared for younger readers, Jenkins had to take a complex concept and make it understandable. The book begins with a time line showing how recently humans appeared in the history of the Earth. The text then goes on to cover basics such as fossil evidence and natural selection, while the illustrations show the diversity of the planet's plant and animal species. Jenkins' "explanations of science concepts are comprehensive and comprehensible, making good use of his excellent illustration," praised Danielle J. Ford in her review for Horn Book, while a Kirkus Reviews critic considered the volume "a first-class foray into an often-neglected topic." Jenkins "illuminates another corner of the science world" according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, while Stephanie Zvirin described Life on Earth in Booklist as "Clever, eye-catching, and extremely effective." While in her review for School Library Journal, Patricia Manning considered the book "a polished exposition of a difficult, often controversial scientific concept," New York Times Book Review contributor Christine Hepperman faulted Jenkins for avoiding the controversy surrounding evolutionary theory. Overall, Hepperman concluded, Life on Earth is "an accessible introduction to a complex topic [that] taps into children's sense of wonder about the world, which is the great starting point for scientific exploration."
In his Boston Globe-Horn Book award-winner The Top of the World, Jenkins leaves the animal kingdom to take his readers on a trek through rugged terrain and a harsh environment. Jenkins admitted that writing a mountaineering book targeted to children was a new challenge. He became excited, however, when he realized how many different scientific concepts he could cover on the journey up the mountain. "Everest allowed me to introduce climate, geology, geography, continental drift, altitude, and history in a book that is both an adventure and a survival story," he commented in his acceptance speech.
In presenting the Boston Globe-Horn Book award to the author, who calls himself an "armchair adventurer with a voyeuristic interest in alpine mountaineering," judge Susan P. Bloom summed up The Top of the World, and her words could be applied to Jenkins' work in general. "Once the viewer experiences the raw majesty and mystery Jenkins evokes with his extraordinary paper collage, it is nigh impossible to believe any other media could more powerfully summon forth the breathtaking, dangerous, truly awesome terrain of Mount Everest.… But the book's beauty belies the wealth of knowledge it reveals: each page has its main text, most often augmented by information brilliantly incorporated into sidebars. The final page shows a jubilant climber, ice pick raised high in victory. Jenkins so dazzlingly designs this book that the victory belongs to each reader."
While Jenkins has collaborated with many authors as an illustrator, in 2001 he expanded these projects to include his wife, Robin Page. Their first title, Animals in Flight, explores different styles of wings—from dragon-flies to bats to birds—and some of the mechanics behind flight. A large picture of the animal is accompanied by large text, while smaller pictures accompany a smaller text describing more of the scientific details of flight. Several reviewers had mixed feelings on the success of this format, Gillian Engberg noting in Booklist, that the "smaller font often seems too small"; nonetheless the critic concluded that the book is "an attractive, informative choice." Ellen Heath praised Animals in Flight in School Library Journal, proclaiming Jenkins' illustrations to be "perfect for this exploration of wings." A reviewer on the Children's Literature Web site considered Animals In Flight "a fine introduction for a variety of age groups."
Page and Jenkins continue their collaboration with What Do You Do with a Tail like This? in which each page features an interesting, close-up feature of an animal's body part, followed by an illustration of the entire animal alongside a text that provides detailed animal facts. Tim Arnold, in his review for Booklist, called the title "another exceptional paper-cut science book from Jenkins," adding that, "Like [Jenkins'] previous books, it's a stunner." Wanda Meyers-Hines in School Library Journal called the collaboration "yet another eye-opening book," and a critic for Kirkus Reviews considered the work a "display of genius." What Do You Do with a Tail like This? was named a Caldecott Honor Book in 2004.
In his interview on the Children's Literature Web site, Jenkins commented about how the collaboration works. "I'm more linear, and with the writing I always have to keep cutting away. My tendency is to keep adding information. She comes at it from the other end, keeping things simple and making intuitive connections. She does concept development, designs the pages, and works out how the book flows. When it gets down to the end her work is much more precise."
Jenkins has also had the opportunity to collaborate with his father on a science project, as he did when he was a child. The result of their efforts was published as Next Stop, Neptune. Tapping the elder Jenkins' expertise on astronomy, the pair creates a tour of the planets of the solar system, and points out unique sites, such as a mountain on Mars that is nearly three times as tall as the mountain on earth that Jenkins is perhaps most associated with—Mount Everest.
When describing his work process on the Children's Literature Web site, Jenkins explained that he starts with photographs from books or those he takes himself while visiting zoos or aquariums. Once he has established his overall ideas in his head, he begins putting things on paper. "I do an outline drawing based on the references and how I want them to look on the page. Then a quick color setting to figure out what paper I'm going to use in the collage. Finally I cut and tear," he told the online interviewer. He also explained part of the appeal of collage art for young readers: "They are filling in part of the information. So not only is it satisfying for me to find a piece of paper that is at the same time a hippopotamus's skin, but I think kids get the same satisfaction from filling in the details and making it into a hippo as well as a piece of paper."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, October 1, 1994, Chris Sherman, review of Duck's Breath and Mouse Pie: A Collection of Animal Superstitions, p. 330; February 1, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Biggest, Strongest, Fastest, p. 1003; October 1, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Big and Little, p. 358; December 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You?, p. 633; August, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest, p. 201; April 1, 1999, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Top of the World: Climbing Mount Everest, p. 1405; May 15, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Slap, Squeak, and Scatter: How Animals Communicate, p. 1754; December 15, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Animals in Flight, p. 735; December 15, 2002, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution, p. 759; January 1, 2003, review of Life on Earth, p. 797; February 15, 2003, Tim Arnold, review of What Do You Do with a Tail like This? p. 1068.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1995, Heather McCammonel-Watts, review of Biggest, Strongest, Fastest, p. 348; December, 1997, Elizabeth Bush, review of What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You?, p. 131; June, 1998, Deborah Stevenson, "Rising Star."
Horn Book, July-August, 1995, Ellen Fader, review of Biggest, Strongest, Fastest, p. 477; November, 1995, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Looking Down, p. 734; March, 1999, Lilly Robinson, review of The Top of the World, p. 244; January, 2000, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award acceptance speech, p. 51; September-October, 2002, Danielle J. Ford, review of Life on Earth, p. 595; May-June, 2004, Lauren E. Raece, review of Actual Size, p. 345.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1997, review of What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You?, p. 1458; July 15, 1998, review of Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest, p. 1036; October 15, 2001, review of Animals in Flight, p. 1485; October 1, 2002, review of Life on Earth, p. 1471; January 15, 2003, review of What Do You Do with a Tail like This?, p. 142; July 1, 2003, review of One Nighttime Sea: An Ocean Counting Rhyme, p. 913.
New York Times Book Review, November 12, 1995, Patricia McCormick, review of Looking Down, p. 32; October 17, 1999, Christopher S. Wren, review of The Top of the World, p. 31; March 9, 2003, Christine Hepperman, "Evolution for Beginners," p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, November 10, 1997, review of What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You?, p. 73; May 10, 1999, review of The Top of the World, p. 68; November 11, 2002, review of Life on Earth, p. 63.
School Library Journal, September, 1994, Sandra Welzenbach, review of Duck's Breath and Mouse Pie, p. 208; September, 1995, John Peters, review of Looking Down, p. 179; October, 1996, Caroline Ward, review of Big and Little, p. 99; November, 1997, Sally Bates Goodroe, review of What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You?, p. 109; August, 1998, Anne Chapman Callaghan, review of Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest, p. 151; May, 2001, Cynthia M. Sturgis, review of Slap, Squeak, and Scatter, p. 143; November, 2001, Ellen Heath, review of Animals in Flight, p. 146; December, 2002, Patricia Manning, review of Life on Earth, p. 124; March, 2003, Wanda Meyers-Hines, review of What Do You Do with a Tail like This?, p. 220; January, 2004, Joy Fleischhacker, review of Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest, p. 78; April, 2004, review of What Do You Do with a Tail like This?, p. 20.
Teaching Children Mathematics, April, 1997, Eunice Hendrix-Martin, "Students Use Their Bodies to Measure Animals," p. 426.
Children's Literature Web site, http://www.childrenslit.com/ (September 3, 2004), interview with Jenkins.
Houghton Mifflin Web site, http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/ (September 3, 2004).*
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