I couldn't wait to read this one. People had been talking about it since the spring and it sounded intriguing. I had been waiting for it all summer at my local public library, but it was never ordered. I had given up on seeing it, but two events happened at the same time - it was nominated for a Cybil in the Nonfiction Picture Book category and we finally went back to our favorite school library to visit after the summer. It was there on the shelf (actually several of our local school libraries had bought it), and I now had the perfect excuse to review it!
I find this book a really fascinating combination of nonfiction and picture book. First, the nonfiction. The book is about endangered species and wildlife conservation. Jenkins looks at animals who are extinct or endangered and breaks them into several groups. There are animals who are already extinct, species who are endangered because humans have introduced predators, species who are running out of room, species who are accidentally killed off by human actions or disease. Jenkins also includes a more optimistic group - the animals that were once in danger but have now rebounded.
Jenkins has two ways of giving young readers information. The main text is written in a more narrative style. Facts are mentioned in a general way - writing about the American bison, Jenkins "A few hundred years ago, there were millions of them roaming the prairies and woodlands." Jenkins is concentrating on telling the story of these endangered species, rather than throwing facts at the reader. But he does this in an easy-to-read style, with a clear line of reasoning. In explaining why tigers are in danger of becoming extinct, he tells readers "So if you were a poor farmer trying to make a living with a couple of cows and a few goats, you might not be happy if you found there was a hungry tiger nearby." He helps us as readers clearly envision how our world has gotten into this predicament.
Jenkins also works hard at making the various problems affecting animals very clear to us. This is actually one of the clearest books on wildlife conservation I've read. As I mentioned, Jenkins takes groups of animals who have become or are becoming extinct and talks about the problems facing those groups. He takes one focal animal, like the tiger, and uses that animal to represent the group. But after the narrative section where he tells the story of their problem, there is a double-page spread with facts and illustrations of the other members of that group. This is where Jenkins uses actual facts about the animals , including their location and the problem facing them. Jenkins combines nonfiction techniques, making it appeal to both kinds of nonfiction readers - those who like the information and those who like the story.
But there is something else that will help this book appeal to readers and that is the illustrations. The illustrations are done primarily in pencil, but they are amazingly realistic. White's shading techniques bring light to the gray graphite color and there is amazing texture on these animals. White uses oil paint (primarily a golden brown) to draw readers' eyes to some of the smallest details. My favorite is the broad-faced potoroo (a small mouse-like creature) which is on a double-paged spread with several large animals. White uses a touch of that brown on the potoroo's ears and paws to bring readers to the corner of the page. It just highlights the ears and paws, but he just glows. So do other animals where she uses the paint to cover the animal - the tiger just smolders regally. It's amazing. The book was created on creamy paper, which sets off the pencil and oil paint perfectly. It is just a gorgeously drawn book. Especially in the beginning of the book, where Jenkins is discussing species that are extinct, White brings these species to life.
Finally Jenkins and White show off what may be my favorite species on the brink of extinction - the kakapo. If you remember, I wrote about last year's Siebert winner, Kakapo Rescue, here. Here's hoping that this year's Siebert winner also brings attention to this precious bird.
Note: I am on the Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book panel, but this blog post does not represent the committee's thoughts about the book. It only represents my ideas and thoughts.
Can We Save the Tiger? Martin Jenkins; illustrated by Vicky White. Candlewick, 2011.
borrowed from Helena School District library