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Friday, February 25, 2011

Bones, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins. Scholastic, 2010. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"To support its great weight,
the elephant has leg bones as
thick and strong as tree trunks.

The stork, like all flying birds,
has thin, hollow bones that make
it light enough to get airborne."

No matter how many times I share Steve Jenkins' superb books, I am constantly aware of the awe in which he is held by his legion of fans. Open a page in this book and it is sure to remind someone of that illustration in Actual Size (Houghton, 2004) that shows the head of the saltwater crocodile, or the levels of the sea in Down Down Down (Houghton, 2009) or the orangutan holding a large leaf as an umbrella over his head in the rainforest in How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly? (Houghton, 2008). If kids have been lucky enough to borrow, or buy one of his remarkably illustrated and researched books, they will be fans for life. If they are working in a classroom where Steve Jenkins' books are being studied, they will emerge more informed and constantly intrigued by the wonders of our world. They will also have come in contact with an inveterate questioner and a perpetual learner.

As is usual for this talented and inquisitive man, the information about bones in animals and humans is presented with clear and accurate attention to detail. Why even the big, smiling human skull on the front cover is a promise that here you will discover much. Open that cover and the title page shows a monkey swinging across it. Note how remarkably similar it is to our own human skeletons! And then we are right into the 'bare bones' details of skeletons and how they work.

There is much to ponder as we make our way through its double-page spreads...many bones are shown actual size, while others are created to scale. At the bottom of each spread, the author provides parenthetical information for readers. As he explains the function of bones for most of the world's species, he also reminds us of their importance:

"Remove an animal's skeleton, and it would become a helpless, squishy sack of skin."

An initial guessing game places just one bone of a human hand on the first page and the whole thing on the following one, and lets readers know that there are 27 bones there. He moves on to arms, legs, ribs, vertebrae, and the skull. But, that's not all. You never knows what's coming next and that it a big part of the appeal. The accompanying text is short, sweet and to the point, never overwhelming with detail and always encouraging the young reader to move on and learn more.

The foldouts are visually delightful, from the rib cage of a two metre long python (that's a lot of ribs), to skulls in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and finally to the fully complete human skeleton (and its 206 bones). He ends with text boxes that contain even more information:

"Human babies are born with about 300 bones. As they grow, some of their separate bones, such as the ones in the skull, fuse together. Adults end up with a total of 206 bones."


"The blue whale is the largest mammal that has ever lived, with a skeleton to match. A blue whale's skull is the size of a station wagon."

Who didn't want to know that?

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