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Home | LS5603 Children's and YA Literature | LS6643 Nonfiction for Children and YA
Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution

Jenkins, Steve. 2002. LIFE ON EARTH: THE STORY OF EVOLUTION. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN: 0618164766.

Using vivid watercolor cut-paper collages and two different typefaces, Jenkins jumps head first into the complicated subject of evolution. Without mention of the controversy and heated debates that often accompany this topic, Jenkins begins by informing readers that all life forms as we know them today are descendedants of one-celled organisms from billions of years ago. The main text gives a brief history of Charles Darwin's research and then explains several of the tenets of his theory of evolution, such as survival of the fittest and mutations. Captions near the illustrations in a smaller font go into more detail about the animals illustrated through the collages. The final page contains a timeline that gives a reader perspective on evolution by comparing it to a twenty-four hour day and placing the Earth's history throughout the hours of that day.

Through his remarkable text, Jenkins is able to use concise language that explains the different concepts thoroughly in a way that middle schoolers will understand without compromising sentence structure or vocabulary. Concepts such as variation are explained in both the main text, the smaller text, and also through the illustrations. This theory is explained vaguely in the main text "As scientists learned more, they found that offspring could differ from their parents through variation or mutation.", in more detail in the smaller text "Many living things reproduce sexually. This means that there is a father and a mother and that each baby has a mixture of the qualities of the parents. Since each misture is a little different, there are natural differences among offspring. Some will be taller, some shorter; some darker...", and the concept is then illustrated visually through a chart that shows the possible offspring from one gray and one brown mouse. Placing differing levels of information in different places allows learners to move at their own pace and reread and study concepts as needed.

Jenkins' illustrations for this book have been hailed as "eye catching and clever" (Zvirin, 2002), and they definitely grab the reader's attention. His detailed cuttings and used of different textures make the animals seem as if they could fly or skitter from one page to the next at any moment. While the text does a thorough job of explaining the subject matter, the collages are the main attraction on each page. With few exceptions, the colorful and unique pieces of art dominate most of each double page spread. A key that identifies the illustrations, a bibliography, and a list of further readings are also included.

Manning calls Life on Earth "Substantial, despite its picture-book appearance", and it is a work that will prove both informative and useful to teachers and students striving to explain and comprehend these complicated concepts.

Manning, Patricia. 2002. Life on Earth: The story of evolution. SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL 49(12). In EBSCOHost (database online). Available from http://search.epnet.com/login.asp. Accessed 28 January 2005.

Zvirin, Stephanie. 2002. Starred review: Books for youth. BOOKLIST (99)8: 759. In EBSCOHost (database online). Available from http://search.epnet.com/login.asp. Accessed 28 January 2005.

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