Science Book a Day Interviews Steve Jenkins


Special thanks to Steve Jenkins for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest–and Most Surprising–Animals on Earth

My interest in science led me to believe that I’d be a scientist myself. At the last minute, I chose instead to go to art school in North Carolina, where I studied graphic design. After graduation I moved to New York City, where I worked in advertising and design, first in large firms and then with my wife, Robin Page, in our own small graphic design firm. Robin, also an author and illustrator, is my frequent collaborator — we’ve made four children’s books together. – Adapted from Steve’s Homepage

Steve’s Homepage:

#1 – What was the impetus for The Animal Book?

My publisher (Houghton Mifflin) approached me with a proposal to bind several older books into one volume. This sounded fine. When I started looking at formats and reading levels, however, I realized that it wouldn’t work.  I usually work within the confines of 32 pages, but I became intrigued by the possibilities a much longer book might offer, so I suggested a “big” book with mostly new content, and they agreed. It took a lot of trial and error — mostly error — to come up with an organizing principle that would hold the book together.

#2 – You have a unique ‘paper-mosaic’ visual style. How did you develop your style of artistry?

I began doing cut-paper collage long before I wrote a children’s book. I was a graphic designer (still am, I suppose) working in NYC, and I initially developed this collage technique to illustrate trade book covers I’d been commissioned to design.

#3 – With over 300 animals featured, how long did it take to put the book together?

About half of those illustrations are repurposed from earlier books. It would have been an almost overwhelming project had they all been new. As it was, the project took the better part of two and a half years. Not such a long time for some authors, but it was for me.

#4 – You have tid-bits of information. How did you go about researching the textual information? What was your favourite fact?

I did a lot of reading. Books, websites, blogs written by scientists, magazine and newspaper articles. I collect bits that I find interesting and put them in a digital file. I have collections of facts for lots of potential books.

A favorite fact . . . I’ll give you two. Both appeared in other books, but recur in The Animal Book:

1) Line up every living thing — plant, animal, or prokaryote — that has been named. One in four will be a beetle.
2) Every living thing on earth is the descendant of a particular single-celled organism that lived more than 3.5 billion years ago.

#5 – Do you have a new project/book you are working on?
I am just finishing a book called Egg (written with Robin Page). Curiously enough, it’s about eggs.

Another recent book we did together is Creature Features. It will be published in the fall. It’s a look at unusual animal faces, with explanations of how some odd-looking feature helps these creatures survive. This book is something of a departure in tone. It’s written as a series tongue-in-cheek (so to speak) interviews, asking the animals about their appearance. They reply conversationally, but their answers are factual. In part, it’s an attempt to point out our anthropomorphic tendencies in an entertaining but informative way.

Finally, we are in the sketch/rough draft phase of a new book about how animals solve various problems: attracting a mate, building a nest, catching dinner. It’s called How to Swallow a Pig.

[Image Credit: Tim Tucker @ ]