Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Stats! Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Animal Infographics by Steve Jenkins

Numbers help us understand our world.

When it comes to animals, numbers are especially important. How big is a whale? How loud is a lion's roar? It would be difficult to answer these questions--even to ask them--without numbers.

In this book, facts and figures abut animals are presented visually as graphs, symbols, and illustrations. Infographics give us another way of looking at animals.

Author-artist Steve Jenkins is rightly famous for his exquisite illustrations of the world of animals fashioned elegantly with layered paper collage and a fine eye for detail. But no child can look at those pictures without asking questions. How big is it? How long does it live? How many of them live in the world?

The answers to these questions involve numbers. but delivering the answers about many animals would involve endless words, sentences, and pages--mind-numbing numbers of them!

In his newest book, Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016), Steve Jenkins turns to infographics, a symbolic way to represent masses of numbers graphically, making them easy to compare and understand.

How loud is a lion's roar? In a typical two-page spread, Jenkins first defines the decibel, the unit of measure for sounds, in an infographic full of surprising comparisons: an insect called a water boatman can be as loud as a lawn mower, a bush cricket and that rhetorical lion can match a chainsaw's 110 decibels, and a little creature called a bulldog bat, the noise champ of land animals, can equal a jet plane's takeoff roar at 140 decibels. Deep under the sea, though, the pistol shrimp is the diva of decibels, with a prey-stunning blast of 200 decibels.

There are plenty of Gees! and Wows! and not a few Yikes! among Jenkin's variety of infographic symbols--bar graphs, line graphs, symbols, flow charts, and the rest--including one using little clothespin figure symbols that show the number of human deaths caused by various animals, some of which prompt all three exclamations: sharks cause only an average of 10 deaths per year; crocodiles cause 1,600, (a mere pittance compared to, yes, the dog at 55,000 deaths per year.) But the champion man killer, the mosquito, gets most of a whole double-page spread for those rows and rows of little doomed figures--a million lives per year.

The author's variety of infographic types is amazing in their variety, but more so in their ease of almost instant understanding and ability to portray a lot of information in a small space. A graphic artist like Jenkins is himself a rare beast indeed, in the beauty of his classy artistic sensibility, his passion for nature science, and his distinctive style of representing numerical concepts with flair and polished panache.

Steve Jenkins' Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics is yet another necessary purchase for all public and school libraries, a book than even math teachers may want to own for their own bookshelves.

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