Life On Earth: The Story of Evolution written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins


81yB-de+lyL._AC_UY218_ML3_Life On Earth: The Story of Evolution written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 9780358108443, 2020

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Paperback

What did you like about the book?  Steve Jenkins’ cut paper creatures on stark white backgrounds are always beautiful and the contrast between the creatures and the bright emptiness focuses the eye. It’s almost impossible to describe his gorgeous illustrations if you’ve never seen them. As usual, he has assembled layered, handmade paper into collages, attaining a remarkable degree of detail. It must take a remarkably steady hand to perfectly cut the tiny black legs of over 20 different beetles and correctly match the multiformed appendages to their corresponding colorful shells. The decision to include delicate shadows for each creation magnifies their solidity — it’s easy to imagine the next flap of a dragonfly’s wing or listen for the scritch-scratch of a lemur’s claws. Jenkins also makes liberal use of the paper’s feathery qualities to sculpt tufted tails, wispy ferns and leafy thickets.

The first half of the book marvels at the variety of life on earth and and focuses on the changing dominance of species over time. The second half plunges into a description of Charles Darwin’s journey and his theory of evolution. I especially liked Jenkins’ explanation of natural selection, tracing the story of a clutch of frog eggs. Out of the 3,000+ eggs, only ten tadpoles hatch and we see the fate of the eight who fall prey to predators, leaving only two to pass their traits on to the next generation. Despite being originally written in 2002, Jenkins had foresight enough to note that our Earth is currently experiencing mass extinction, due to human activity.

Anything you didn’t like about it? There are some word choices that I found less than precise. For example, the ancestors of early humans are described as “descended from apes” rather than apes and humans having a common ancestor. Modern humans are described as “people who look like us”, but the bearded white man pictured cannot stand in for all readers. I found the transition from fewer words in the first half to full pages of text in the second half somewhat jarring.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Fans of Steve Jenkins will want to have this work in their libraries. I love the idea of pairing classroom and art teachers for a study of his works. Sabina Radeva’s Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (2019) is also a work of art and provides more detailed  information on Darwin’s theories and life.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? 576.8

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? My guess is you’ve already read it.

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: February 2, 2020

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