Jenkins, S. (2005). Prehistoric Actual Size. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Oh, Steve Jenkins.
I didn't realize it, but you've been at work for quite some time. Sitting in a corner, quietly shredding paper for your striking illustrations while the rest of us were wandering around.
Appetizer: In this picturebook, Jenkins uses his paper collages to show the actual size of a number of prehistoric creatures including a velociraptor, sea scorpion, diplocaulus, dragonfly, cockroach, millipede, giganotosaurus, etc.
I liked that Jenkins organizes the various creatures according to the number of hundred million years ago that they thrived.
Let's be honest here. These beasties have a lot of potential to be terrifying. They are the beasties of nightmares. When sharing this with early grade school kids, I think it'd be VERY important to remind students that these beasties no longer exist at the size pictured, that we should all be grateful that the millipede and cockroaches evolved to be much smaller. I know I'm very thankful for this. (Although, the cockroach could still go smaller and I wouldn't complain. I find the occasional dead one in the halls where my office is. I usually take pictures of them on my phone and send the images to my parents. Cause I'm an awesome daughter like that.)
To keep the illustrations interesting, Jenkins usually only shows a portion of the ancient beasties. In some cases, this includes only a head or a claw. This also helps to impress upon the reader the size of these creatures.
The text describing each animal in minimal, often only reinforcing the image that is being shown.
"Animals have lived on earth for hundreds of millions of years. Dragonflies the size of seagulls, meat-eating dinosaurs bigger than a bus, giant flying reptiles, fierce predatory birds eight feet tall--they all appeared, thrived for millions of years, and then died out as the world changed around them."
"Diplocaulus was a meat-eating amphibian. Its horns may have helped it glide through the water."
"This giant millipede had as many as thirty pairs of legs."
"Giganotosaurus may have been the largest predator that ever lived on land."
"The terror bird lived in South America. It was the largest predator of its time--big enough to eat a horse."
To Go with the Meal:
Prehistoric Actual Size can be used to help students understand the concept of prehistoric time (paying special attention to reinforce the idea that these big (and in a few cases small) beasties aren't wandering around the cities and suburbs looking for tasty kiddies to eat).
Looking at the illustrations, a teacher can encourage the students to think about how the creatures would feel to the touch, or could have them research the animals more thoroughly beginning with the glossary of animals at the end and moving to other books or online.
To go a creative route, middle grade students could pretend to have one of the animals as a pet. They could write a story describing how they would care for their prehistoric creature and in some cases keep the animal or other people safe.
Tasty Rating: !!!