Dogs and Cats, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Dogs and CatsDogs and Cats
Written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins
Houghton Mifflin; $16.00
40 pp.; ISBN-13: 978-0618507672

Review by Amy Brozio-Andrews

Dogs or cats? Or cats and dogs? It’s an age-old question, often discussed by kids — if they have one, which is better; if they want a pet, which one. Or even just wild-waving and calling when you see the neighborhood cats and dogs while taking a walk down the street. To satisfy their curiosity and maybe end the cats/dogs argument for a little while, Steve Jenkins’ Dogs and Cats is even-handed and equally supportive of both animals — pick up the book one way, it’s Dogs and Cats, turn it over, it’s Cats and Dogs. Each half of the book covers dogs or cats, and then cleverly meets in the middle with a cat and dog lolling together as the question becomes do cats and dogs get along?

The book covers most of what a kid would want to know about dogs and cats: a history of the species, from earliest roles as hunters and predators to first attempts at domestication, and how the domesticated species fits in with the wild cats and dogs. Jenkins covers basic animal characteristics, abilities, and frequently asked questions about the animals (for example, why do dogs bury bones, or can cats see in the dark), and the life of a cat or dog from birth to adulthood. Rounding out the section, Jenkins includes a broad variety of cat/dog trivia. Including lots of common sense (don’t try to pet a strange dog) with lesser-known information (I had no idea that chocolate was poisonous to dogs), kids can really learn something from this book while being entertained at the same time.

Brief passages of informational text are coupled with striking illustrations and shorter captions that offer readers additional details. Scattered throughout the book and placed in unobtrusive corners, silhouettes of cats/dogs with a short nugget of information appear in the other animal’s section, prompting the reader to switch back and forth from the cat section to the dog section and vice versa. Jenkins’ writing style is lively and conversational. It’s clear he’s really tried to anticipate the kinds of things kids might want to know about cats and dogs. And since they’re such common companions for children, it was a great idea to pair them into a single book, where the cat side and the dog side offer readers parallel information (history, physical characteristics and abilities, and trivia), meeting in the middle with "Friends or enemies?"

Jenkins’ outstanding illustrations are all paper collages, many of which are from hand made papers from around the world, including Egypt, France, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nepal, and Thailand. His ability to use the textures and fibers of the paper to create detailed and realistic-looking animals (there must be dozens of breeds in this book) is amazing. The animals’ fur is shaded beautifully and even the frayed edges of the paper are put to use in creating life-like hair, giving the illustrations far more depth than you’d think a collage might allow.

Dogs and Cats is wildly informative for young readers, visually appealing and expressive of children’s enthusiasm and passion for these animals.

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