What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?

by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

This is one of those books that was constantly checked out of my little library in Virginia. How can you blame the kids? The cover is both creepy-crawly and funny, and the guts of this book are filled to the brim with pictures and facts about animals and their body parts. {And, any book that has something called a blue-footed booby inside is sure to be a winner. Trust me.} Not to mention that pretty silver Caldecott Honor Medal on the front…I wonder if Steve Jenkins willed himself a Caldecott by mimicking a circle in that scaly tail? A stretch? Maybe, but all those circles sure do look nice.

I know better, but it is IMPOSSIBLE to read this book without wanting to touch the pages and feel the roughness and texture of the collaged paper. The texture of the animals creates enormous contrast with the stark white of the rest of the page. These animals will absolutely jump off the page if you’re not careful. Their texture gives them such vibrance and life.

And just like in Actual Size, Steve Jenkins uses size (duh…) masterfully to create contrast. This makes for incredibly exciting page turns. On each question page, the animals’ body part is seen up close, and on the page where the answers are explained, we have zoomed out to see each entire animal. The playfulness in using size both furthers the story and provides great visual interest. Caldecott well deserved, I’d say.

But. One of his layout choices makes reading this book extra fun, and that element is Line.

The text is connected to its appropriate animal in a meaningful (and sometimes especially cute) way. It could have been easy to lay down the text in a center justified block next to each animal. The same information would get into the brain of the reader, sure. Instead though, the text exists in a space that is relevant to its particular animal. The horned lizard who squirts blood out of his eyes has, well, text squirting out of his eyes. And the skunk, who lifts his tail to spray his stink, sprays out text instead.

And that’s the beauty of this book! The pictures are gorgeous, the space left behind is intentional, and the information in the text is visually relevant to its accompanying image.