Science Book a Day Interviews Steve Jenkins

steve-jenkinsSpecial thanks to Steve Jenkins for answering 5 questions about his recently featured co-authored book – Sisters & Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World

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 Sisters and Brothers?

We originally proposed (and had a contract for) a book about animal parenting. We began researching other books on the subject (there are quit a few), and we were having trouble coming up with a fresh angle. We kept putting off the book, doing other titles instead. One day, when we were talking about the project, we realized that we had come across almost nothing about animal sibling relationships. We began to research that subject, and it was difficult to find much information. We had to dig really hard for facts and examples. So we thought that there could be a place for a book that described this aspect of animal behavior. In other words, the book grew out of what we didn’t find, rather than what we did.

#2 – What is it about sibling relationships that children love so much. And how did you explore this relationship in your book?

Other than the parent/child relationship, one’s connections to sisters and/or brothers are probably the strongest bonds we form as children. It’s easy to think of these relationships in the animal world as exaggerated versions of human relationships: siblings that fiercely protect each other, that kill and eat each other, that compete for food or parental attention, and so on.

#3 – What has been the most interest sibling fact, to you and that you’ve heard from your readers?

For Robin and I, I think it is the turkey brothers. We’ve heard from a lot of kids that the black widow spider cannibal siblings are “cool and gross.”

#4 – How do you communicate the science and sometimes difficult concepts to children? Do you have a philosophy when writing a science book for kids?

It’s always judgement call. Can a science concept be explained using vocabuary or metaphors that our audience will understand? Or does introducing one concept require introducing other concepts that will take the reader off on a tangent and distract them from the main point? It’s simpler if math is involved, since we have a pretty good idea (from our own kids) about what math concepts have been introduced to, say, a second grader. It can be less clear a less quantifiable concept is involved. If we can put what we believe will be new information into a context that will make it understandable, we’ll often introduce it. But sometimes we realize that too much background would have to be explained. An example (not specifically from Sisters & Brothers): if we talk about natural selection, — how traits that aid survival tend to be passed on, do we introduce genetics?(probably not, for a second grade reader) Or do we avoid trying to expain the mechanism of heritable traits?

#5 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about?

We just finished a book about animal behavior called How to Swallow a Pig. It’s real information about animal behavior presented in a slightly tongue-in-cheek how-to book format. And we are almost ready to deliver the art and text files for a book about animal movement titled Flying Frogs and Walking Fish, it explores common ways of moving (flying, walking, swimming, climbing, etc.) as practiced by unexpected animals.


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