At Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast—my blog where I write about illustration and contemporary picture books—I certainly can’t cover every picture book of interest to me in a given year. But I do what I can.
Read Seven Impossible Things on looking ahead to 2012.
This week, the last one of 2011, I take the opportunity at Kirkus to mention the one title I regret not covering at my own site this year. (To my credit, I tried to line up an informative Q&A with the book’s author, illustrator, editor and art director, but it simply failed to materialize.)
The book I speak of is Martin Jenkins’ Can We Save the Tiger?—illustrated by Vicky White and published by Candlewick in February. Much has already been said about this beautifully rendered book, so I’ll be brief. It’s not like it didn’t get any attention this year—for one, it was named a 2011 Honor Book in the Nonfiction category by the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards—but let’s just say it’ll help the picture-book-nerd side of me sleep better at night, knowing that, during the last gasp of 2011, I added my own whoops to the barbaric yawps which already exist for this book.
Extinction in every stripe is the name of the game: Animals that are forever gone (the dodo); endangered species—big (the tiger), small (the partula snail), beautiful (mariana fruit dove) and “ugly” (vultures); those endangered by human actions (albatrosses); those that “we have saved, at least for the time being” (bison); and those that “have been brought back from the brink of extinction but are still very rare” (whooping crane).
In a first-person, matter-of-fact tone, Jenkins speaks directly to readers. Illustrations of the animals in question are accompanied by listed facts about the creatures (where they are found on the planet, size, life span, etc.), but elsewhere it’s Jenkins’ conversational tone, as if the reader is sitting one-on-one with him, chatting over coffee, that makes this book stand out. Without ever condescending to child readers but with words that sing with clarity, he lays out the complicated issues surrounding the extinction or near-extinction of many animals, noting how human behavior exacerbates the problems.
Jenkins even closes the book with an incisive question, aimed squarely at the one holding the book: “[I]f we stop trying, the chances are that pretty soon we’ll end up with a world where there are no tigers or elephants, or sawfishes or whooping cranes, or albatrosses or ground iguanas. And I think that would be a shame, don’t you?”
White’s illustrations are drawings of utter grace and elegance. I remember quietly gasping when first cracking open this book way back at the beginning of the year. This is beautiful artwork, mostly drawings in pencil that are economically colored with oils, occasional splashes of striking color. According to the book’s back-flap bio, White—who travels the world to draw and paint animals in the wild—worked as a zookeeper for years and has a master’s degree in natural history illustration from the Royal College of Art in London. Her passion for the subject matter shines through in her soft and detailed illustrations.
This is simply one of the year’s best titles. And now that I’ve done my part in singing its praises, even if in the final hours of 2011, I can sleep better at night.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.