Actual Size by Steve Jenkins is a fascinating picture book that appeals to all ages. It features life-size illustrations of animals and parts of animals with simple factual statements about each creature. Many of the animals are the largest or smallest in the world in some category. For example, one spread shows the head, neck, and egg of the world’s largest bird (the ostrich), while another suspends the world’s smallest fish (the dwarf goby) in a sea of white space. The illustrations are very clean. The animals either appear on a white background or cover the entire page. A special fold-out page in the middle allows readers to see the whole length of the saltwater crocodile’s snout. Each illustration is accompanied by a sentence or two about the animal’s characteristics. For example, the words on the spread featuring a very large spider say, “The Goliath birdeater tarantula is big enough to catch and eat birds and small mammals.” Jenkins also shares statistics, like weight and height, about the animals. The most exciting page may be the one featuring a life-size gorilla hand. I’ve found that everyone is eager to “give the gorilla a high-five” to compare their hand size with the ape’s.
Whether it’s shared one-on-one or with a group, Actual Size works best as an interactive experience. For me, sharing this book feels more like a conversation than a read-aloud session. I typically make the book into a guessing game, covering up the words and asking my audience questions like, “What kind of animal is this?” and “How tall do you think this animal is?” For an older audience, readers may want to prepare by learning additional facts about the animals pictured, or may want to call on listeners to share what they know about the animals. When I read this book at a middle school, I was asked a lot of questions like, “Where does the Siberian tiger live?” and “What does the giant squid eat?” Fortunately, some of the listeners knew the answers to these questions and were eager to share that information with the group. One way readers could prepare in advance is by perusing the extra information on each animal provided at the end of the book. Actual Size is a great read-aloud for preschool and up, and a simplified reading could be suitable for toddlers. For example, I wouldn’t want to tell toddlers that the Alaskan brown bear is “the largest meat-eating animal that lives on land,” but I could make up my own words along the lines of, “This is a brown bear. It lives in Alaska. Look how big it is!” Readers could also use this book to demonstrate the big/small opposite pair. Since it requires a conversational approach, this book is best for readers who are comfortable ad-libbing in front of a group. Actual Size was a big hit on my outreach visits with elementary and middle schoolers, and I look forward to sharing it with younger children at storytimes this fall.
Check the WRL catalog for Actual Size.