Acclaimed children’s nonfiction author a hit at Evelyn M. Finnegan Lecture Series
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
From the time of his first book about animals — crafted by hand when he was a small boy (“I like how the graph paper suggested a turtle as the cover animal.”) — award-winning author and illustrator Steve Jenkins has been drawn by nature. And Jenkins has returned the favor by capturing the natural world — mainly its beasts, birds and fish, past and present — with elaborate paper cut-outs in an expansive oeuvre ranging from “Animals Upside Down” to “Life on Earth” to “Duck’s Breath and Mouse Pie: A Collection of Animal Superstitions.”
“It wasn’t clear this was a children’s book,” Jenkins said of the latter, showing a slide of the page that advised hanging a beetle around an ailing person’s neck. As the first of many laughs of the evening subsided, the dry and soft-spoken author continued, “Most of the superstitions had to do with warding off fatal illnesses.”
But children are entranced to the messy and the macabre and, unlike many adults, who Jenkins said “tend to absorb facts passively,” have a more dynamic hunger to learn. And, despite their age and inexperience, children have the ability to understand bedrock scientific concepts like plate tectonics, heliocentrism and evolution.
“Evolution can be grasped by an engaged second-grader,” Jenkins said, explaining why his books are focused on science. As the son of a physicist, he said he respects that “Science progresses by being wrong,” as theories are continually tested and replaced by better theories.
Jenkins spoke to about 180 people Nov. 21 at Marran Theater as the headliner of this year’s Evelyn M. Finnegan Children’s Literature Lecture Series, named after an acclaimed children’s-book author and 1948 graduate of Lesley. This lecture series is funded by the University’s outstanding children’s literature collection’s permanent endowment, in conjunction with Sherrill Library at Lesley and Lesley’s Graduate School of Education’s Language and Literacy Division.
Jenkins has written and illustrated 30 children’s books and is collaborating with his wife, author and graphic designer Robin Page, on a book called “Creature Features” about why animals possess the facial feature they do. He met his wife while he worked in graphic design, but once his children were born, decided to commit to writing children’s non-fiction. The genre at once gave him the chance to appreciate his own kids’ vantage point while venerating the spirit of scientific inquiry.
“Change has come about because old ways of thinking weren’t simply accepted,” he said, drawing a parallel with children’s tendency to test, push limits and experiment. In the best of circumstances, that trait leads to successful students who can become world changers.
In her introduction of Jenkins, Dr. Erika Thulin Dawes called the author a “kindred spirit to our mission here at Lesley University” and applauded the author for inspiring his readers’ own creativity, as well as improving their literacy by increasing their knowledge of the world around them.
Read more about Jenkins in the Lesley blog The Classroom Bookshelf.
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