“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember • Picture Book

Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember 
written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins
October 2009 • Houghton Mifflin • Ages 4-8
Find out what you should NEVER do if you encounter one of these surprisingly dangerous animals.
StoryWhen it comes to wild animals, everyone knows that there are certain things you just don't do. It's clearly a bad idea to tease a tiger, pull a python's tail, or bother a black widow spider. But do you know how dangerous it can be to pet a platypus, collect a cone shell, or touch a tang fish? Some creatures have developed unusual ways of protecting themselves or catching prey, and this can make them unexpectedly hazardous to your health. As the Chicago Tribune writes, "Jenkins’s message is that real animals must be dealt with in ways that acknowledge how they behave. So, never smile at a monkey, who might take a show of teeth as aggression and respond with equal aggression. Never pet a platypus, never bother a blue-ringed octopus. The object is not to reduce the child reader to hiding under the bed and not coming out on a vacation, but to explain that animals’ behavior and their physical characteristics make sense in their world."
Story behind the story: Author-illustrator Steve Jenkins uses cut-paper collage as his medium:  "I think children look at cut-paper collage as different kinds of paper, but they can also read it as a representation of a scene or an animal. There’s some kind of sense of participation that maybe you wouldn’t get looking at just an absolutely true, pictorial representation," shares Jenkins in an interview with Teaching Books. Jenkins grew up with a scientist father (astronomer and physicist) and says "I’m sure that he was responsible for a lot of my interest in science. I think he kind of subtly reinforced whatever I was interested in."  As far as his goal in creating nonfiction books for kids, Jenkins adds, "If children can see science not as a process of memorizing facts, or learning names, and dates, and locations, and so on, but see it as a way of investigating the world, and asking questions and demanding evidence to support what people are telling them, then they’ll be much more prepared for what’s going to be thrown at them." 

★"A visually stunning book illustrated with cut paper and torn collages....This superlative illustrator has given children yet another work that educates and amazes." -- School Library Journal, starred review

"With his trademark cut-paper technique, Jenkins proves there may not be a texture that he can't mimic on the page. The high-interest marriage of animals and danger, along with large, vibrant visuals, makes this a prime candidate for group sharing, and additional details and artwork at the end will flesh out some of the finer points for older children." --Booklist 

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.


Anonymous said...

This is a interesting book dealing with dangerous animals. I think it was well presented and easy to read. My one comment to the negative would be not to read to pre-K or K students. First and second graders would not be too upset about the dying part of the examples.

janew said...

The longer you linger the more you see. Jenkin's cut/torn paper collages are stunningly rich with texture, color, and depth. The title and cover art invite the reader into a visual and informative feast. Each page begins with the lead,"Never..."and then introduces the dangerous action, i.e "cuddle a cub, jostle a jellyfish, step on a sting ray", etc. Jenkins writing (in an 'if-then' structure) details what may happen if you encounter one of the creatures and decide to interact with it. Most kids will love this book
Yes, the topic may be scary for some and I might suggest if that is a concern then you may want to begin with the opening paragraph in the back matter. Here, Jenkins spells out the need for the creatures' defense mechanisms. A must read--must look book! High 5

Kim Watson said...

I was very excited to find this book in my mailbox today! This book is a wonderful way to introduce students to different types of animals and their defenses against nature. The illustrations are simple; therefore, the students will concentrate on the focused animal instead of other background materials. I plan to incorporate this book into life science lessons for my 2nd graders. They will love listening to the text and learning about different types of animals.

Rating: definitely a 5/5

crau said...

This book was fun and easy to read. My students were interested immediately by the book jacket. There were some facts they already knew and others they were excited to learn. It would be a great introduction to an animal unit. My preschooler was frightened of the pictures but my first grader loved it.
Rating: 4

ahslibrarian said...

"You don't tug on Superman's cape. You don't spit into the wind. You don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger and you..." Never Smile at a Monkey. Jim Croce would be proud of the effort because the title is catchy and the content ranks right up there with some of the best of all time.
Sometimes, books never live up to the hype and the buzz that is created by their cover and a gimmicky title. This is not one of those occasions. Never Smile at a Monkey is laden with information that begs for more than sitting down and reading the entire book at once. This is a rare book because it is easily adapted to classrooms that nurture children and inspire them to make connections. Imagine a teacher sending students on a hunt for animals that belong to the ocean. Students would find such critters in this book. Or amphibians? Or mammals? Or maybe, students would need to create a list and classify species according to common traits. This book helps to forge connections and encourage students to make their own. One of those connections that teachers will want to point out is the introduction to alliteration provided by the introduction of each animal.

The book is well crafted and put together so that even the youngest can enjoy each of the pages. Everyone should take time to notice the detail provided in the collage, and the wonders of paper. Yes, these collages are that good.

It is rare to find one book that can inspire so many different activities. Never Smile at a Monkey deserves a place on every shelf PreK-3 and every library that serves that population. Make sure that you purchase this book on your next order so that you can have time to plan and enjoy the results before school ends.

5 out of 5

John Parker
Media Coordinator
Andrews High School
50 HS Drive
Andrews, NC 28901

Lisa Kennedy said...

This book is fascinating. As I first read it I would have to stop occasionally to share an interesting "never" story with my husband. While assisting students with research projects Never Smile at a Monkey has been the catalyst for actual enthusiasm about research. The little known facts revealed in the book have made it a much sought after read. I have read it to all elementary grades and each class has had more and more "what if?" questions creating a wonderful transition to a lesson using reference materials in the library. The illustrations are beautiful but not distracting. Without hesitation "Never Smile at a Monkey" is awarded a 5 out of 5 on the Picnic Basket scale. I will certainly take it with me on my next picnic in case I run into a platypus or kangaroo.

Julia Pitau said...

I couldn't wait to receive a copy of this book and am grateful for the opportunity to add it to our library collection. It will be interesting to receive feedback from different age groups. This book is filled to the brim with great facts and illustrations. I was pulled in immediately. As noted by other reviewers, the death factor might play a part in not wanting to share it with younger students. This is NOT a bedtime storybook, but I believe it is a must have for libraries and homes alike.

Picnic Rating: 5

Denair Charter Academy
Denair, CA

Stacy Dillon said...

I used this as a real aloud for 3rd graders...they loved it! We started off by talking about dangerous animals and then got to see who guessed it right! Animal facts are always winners and combined with Jenkins collage...home run!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the book's use of alliteration. It's artwork reminded me of Eric Carle. Students will enjoy the short discriptions, but I was happy to see that more details were included in the back.

I would give it a 5.

Indian Creek Elementary

Anonymous said...

I strongly recommend this book ----5------

It grabs you from the cover. Students in Gds. 2+
enjoy the factual information about how animals defend themselves. The dangerous elements of the details cause young readers to be engaged in learning more about these animal behaviors.

Margo Jantzi
Librarian at Cub Run Elementary
Penn Laird, VA


Carol said...

Jenkins just makes non-fiction so accessible to all readers! The information about dangerous animal behaviors is interesting and educational, and in typical Jenkins fashion,the text dances with the most beautiful collage illustrations. The texture and emotion of the artwork supplements the informative nature of the voice, to make the read lend itself to a social experiment and a revisit back more often than not! I also have to add that I love the cover and title. This is a book that belongs in all libraries and would be a great supplement to a science classroom too. 5 out of r rating.

Angie said...

Steve Jenkins has done no wrong so far ... and continues his hot streak with Never Smile at a Monkey. Not only does the reader get to enjoy his beautiful collage work ... they get to learn about dangerous animals. My students will LOVE it. A must have for every picnic basket!

PS I really like how he makes the first part of the book accessible to younger kids--still sharing information but keeping it short and sweet. Then older readers can flip to the back pages of the book where more detailed information is offered on each animal.

M. Battista said...

I love this book! Our younger students love non-fiction books, but have such a hard time reading them. The organization of this book is not intimidating at all. The type face is large and the pages are not too busy. Oftentimes simple books offer no substantial information, but this one doesn't fall into that trap. I even learned quite a few facts myself like- Never touch a tang. I thought they were gentle. Not so! I recommend this book with a rating of 5!

Denair Elementary School Library
Denair, CA

Julie Hembree said...

Loved it! Caldecott Honor winner Steve Jenkins has done it again! This time he’s created a fascinating book of wild and deadly creatures that come alive through his textured and vivid cut-paper collages. His pages of factual tidbits about a variety of dangerous animals are sure to be a delight for young and old. My first and second grade classes loved this book and were eager for me to turn to each new page to learn more facts about some very nasty creatures. Sometimes Jenkins uses words that younger children aren’t familiar with, jostle and harass for example, but in every case they asked for clarification to make sure they understood what was written. One first grader told me the book was, “Remarkably amazing!”
Never Smile at a Monkey would be a great book to jumpstart a research unit on animals or to use in a writing unit on word choice and succinctness with upper intermediate students. It is definitely worth 5 out of 5 on the Picnic Basket scale and would be a great addition to your library.

Anonymous said...

The artwork and title will pull children in to this book but belie its versatility. It could be read to young children just using the interesting illustrations and repetitive phrases without the explanations (written at a higher reading level). It could also be used in that same way for teaching alliteration to even middle school aged children. Taken as a whole, it's a fascinating book. I'd give it a 4.

Megan B. said...

I love the illustrations so much. I love how he words the warnings and think that kids will especially love learning about it. I agree that younger kids or even older sensitive kids might not be able to handle it as well.

Overall, I give this a 4/5.

Anonymous said...

My second grade boys crave nonfiction, and this book was right up their alley! They loved that the animals were so dangerous, and the comment "Sweet!" was heard way too many times for the only girl in my class. After I read the book aloud initially, it became a favorite pick for independent reading... students loved poring over the facts in the back, which I was glad to see were included. Some were even motivated to do further research on various animals.

In addition to the factual information in the book, it introduced great vocabulary words, some of which were unfamiliar to my students. (badger, antagonize, caress, poach, jostle, harass) The language in the book also provided a "jumping off point" for a writing lesson on alliteration. My students love to use good literature as models for their own writing.
I would rate this book as 5 for children old enough not to be frightened by the content. I have recommended it to our information specialist as a good choice for our school's library.
Second grade teacher

Lindsay said...

Wow, this book was very different from what I was expecting. I pulled it out of the package and sat down with my two-year old and STOPPED READING!

Once I understood who the audience was (older than kindergarten) I gained a different appreciation for the book. The art is beautiful and the context is interesting...

I would give this a 3/5.

Lindsay Horne
New Kent Middle School
New Kent, VA

Lemon the Duck said...

A great introduction to uncommon animals. The "deadly" part made some of the kids a little uncomfortable at first, but after I informed them that many of these dangerous animals live far, far from where we live, they enjoyed it immensely. The colorful torn art depictions help to soften the intro.
The students enhanced their knowledge of animal defenses and the alliteration at the beginning of each page was a great prediction teaser. For example I asked the children why they thought, from looking at the picture (what looked like a good defense), why they should never corner a cassowary...
This is a book to engage even the finickiest non-fiction reader.
I rate this book a 4 out of 5.
Laura Backman
Hathaway School

Tina's Blog said...

Never Smile at a Monkey *and 17 Other Important Things to Remember by Steve Jenkins is a great non-fiction animal book focusing on things that shouldn't be done around various wild animals. For example, it's a bad idea to harass a hippo or antagonize an African buffalo or swim with a squid. Each page's white background features an animal illustrated with collage art and accompanying text explaining why a certain behavior isn't a good idea. At book's end there is a more detailed explanation about the animal and behavior they may find upsetting. I have seen this format now many times, and rather enjoy the additional information that is given for those readers who are able to handle a more in-depth version.

My oldest daughter was quite happy reading this book last night, fascinated by the different interesting facts she was picking up. I think this will be a title most kids will enjoy - for the illustrations, animal information, and the interesting tidbits each page provides.
5/5 Stars

CPA Mom said...

Great book! See my review here http://cpamomva.blogspot.com/2010/03/never-smile-at-monkey-and-17-other.html

Mason and Menna Roseberry said...

I really enjoyed reading this book, but even though I was in my late twenties, I was a little frightened by all the animals out there that could "even lead to death". This was an enjoyable book to read, but I would want to research where these animals would reside to reassure students that they were not going to die on their way home from school. My wife and I would give this book a 3 out of 5.

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