Monday, October 12, 2009

Nonfiction Monday - Slap, Squeak & Scatter

A few years ago Betsy Bird wrote, "It must be very frustrating to work in the field of cut-paper picture books these days. I imagine your average collage artist will spend countless hours trying to get an illustration or scene just right in their book. At long last they will sigh, wipe the sweat from their forehead, and go out to treat themselves to a bagel or muffin. On the way to the bakery, however, they might pass a bookstore and there, propped up prominently in the window, will sit a book by Steve Jenkins. It has to sting. I mean, the guy is phenomenal."

Okay, time for a confession. This is how I feel when I read reviews that Betsy has written. Honestly, once she's given a book an amazingly thorough once-over, how much can others (like me!) really add to the conversation? That's why I was at once thrilled and just a wee bit disappointed when she covered Steve Jenkins' new book, Never Smile At a Monkey. As usual, Betsy is right on point in her commentary, so do take some time to head on over and read her review.

Instead of writing a review that would simply echo Betsy's sentiments, I thought I'd highlight an older Jenkins title that you might not be familiar with.
Slap, Squeak & Scatter: How Animals Communicate, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, tells the story of how animals send messages in a myriad of ways. Here's how the book begins.
Animals, like people, have important things to tell one another. The may need to warn of approaching danger or let others in their group know where to find food. They may want to protect their territory, keep their family together, or find a mate. Sending and receiving these kinds of messages is called communication.
In the pages that follow, Jenkins highlights how animals warn one another of danger, declare their desire to reproduce, attempt to keep their groups /families together, find their offspring, tell others where food is located, mark their territory, and more. Some of the ways animals communicate are listed below. See if you can figure out what each display is meant to communicate. (Answers at the end of this post.)
  • A beavers slaps its tail on the water.
  • A mole rats bangs its head on the roof of its tunnel.
  • A wolf flattens its ears and lowers its body to the ground.
  • A ring-tailed lemur walks through tall grass with its tail high in the air.
  • A house cat rubs its head against its owner's legs.
The pages in the book describe these animals and others. You'll find mammals, insects, arachnids, amphibians, birds and fish. A short descriptive paragraph describes each animal's behavior and how that behavior specifically aids in communication. The illustrations are pure Jenkins, depicting animals in colors, patterns and textures so real they belie their paper origins.

I've reviewed a number of Jenkins' books here, so it's no secret I'm a huge fan. The only real flaw in this book is the lack of endnotes with additional information on the animal subjects. This is one of the highlights of his later books, and with this title I find myself wanting more information about some of the more unfamiliar animals, like the Klipspringer antelope, chaffinch, barking tree frog, flashlight fish, and blue-footed boobies. Despite this weakness, readers will find the text engaging, well-organized, easy to read, and highly informative. Recommended.

Book: Slap, Squeak & Scatter: How Animals Communicate
Author/Illustrator: Steve Jenkins
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Publication Date: April, 2001
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: K-5
ISBN: 0618033769
Source of Book: Personal copy.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Hosting this week is Jennifer of the Jean Little Library. Do take some time to check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Answers: Beaver - warning of danger, Mole rat - tells others it is coming, Wolf - submitting to a stronger wolf, Ring-tailed lemur - a flag to keep track of group members , House cat - marking its territory (the human belongs to it!).


  1. Man, I love me some Steve Jenkins. He's the best. Thanks for that.


  2. Coo! Thanks for the reviewing compliment and thanks even more for highlighting this old Jenkins title. I've never seen it before. Fascinating! Off to the library! After all, your reviews are the ones that actually make me want to pick up the books.