Sunday, October 25, 2009


I am a charter member of the the Steve Jenkins Fan Club. I love the way Jenkins draws on children's natural curiosity to teach them about our world. I love how he makes complex information accessible to kids. And of course I love Jenkins' beautiful collage illustrations. SISTERS AND BROTHERS, and ACTUAL SIZE have long been two of my favorite nonfiction mentor texts. This weekend, Jenkins' newest book, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN: A JOURNEY TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, leaped to the top of my list of all time favorite nonfiction/information picture books.

DOWN, DOWN, DOWN begins with this one page introduction:
"Viewed from space, the earth looks like a watery blue ball. Oceans cover more than two-thirds of the globe's surface, and well over half the planet lies beneath water more than a mile (1 1/2 kilometers deep). We have explored only a small fraction of the oceans. In fact, more humans have walked on the moon than have visited the deepest spot in the ocean.

In this book, we'll descend from the ocean's surface to the sea floor and travel through one of the most extreme environments on earth. Along the way we'll encounter some unusual creatures…"
Jenkins begins at the surface of the ocean, and takes his readers on a journey 35,838 feet down, to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Each two-page spread represents a different cross section of the ocean. A "depth-meter" on the righthand side helps readers to know how far down they have travelled. Headings, accompanied by one or two paragraphs of text, explain to the reader what might be going on at that level. The text is typical Jenkins- meaty, yet accessible and interesting to kids. Here are a few facts that I found particularly interesting:
  • The bodies of most ocean animals are filled with fluids, so they don't have a problem with the pressure found under the ocean.
  • Nine out of every ten animals that live below the sunlit layers of the ocean are bioluminescent- they can produce their own light. Anything containing a hollow, air-filled space, such as a human body or a submarine, risks being crushed as it descends.
  • At 3,300 feet, marine snow, composed of dead plankton, fish scales, animal waste, and bits of larger creatures that have died in the waters above, is the primary food source for small animals, who then become prey for larger hunters.
And of course, each two-page spread is illustrated by three or more of Jenkins' amazingly accurate and breathtakingly beautiful collage sea plants and animals. An appendix at the back of the book contains a paragraph about each animal, as well as a visual comparing the animal's size to that of the human hand. There is also a diagram showing what humans or vehicles have descended to particular depths.

DOWN, DOWN, DOWN is a book that will fascinate kids (not to mention parents and teachers!) I could use the book to teach kids about tools such as headings and diagrams and appendixes. I could use it as a mentor for interesting nonfiction writing. I love having kids draw on Jenkins' work to create illustrations for their own research reports. A must-own for any library, classroom, or family!


Mr. Halpern said...

Actual Size is one of my class' favorite books. I didn't realize he had a new one out - thank you!

Mary Ann Scheuer said...

I'm with you in the Steve Jenkins Fan Club! I can't wait to see Never Smile at a Monkey! Great description of Down, Down, Down!