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Actual Size

Actual SizeWe are reading four information books for our next class, all picture books but for various ages.

Steve Jenkins’s Actual Size could be read with very young children or with older ones depending on how you choose to  share it. There is basic information in large type and details for older children in smaller type. The information at the end provides more information for the adults who may need to field some difficult questions from kids.

What affect does the collage illustration have? Was this a good choice to illustrate this book? I’ve heard about teachers doing some creative classroom projects using this book as a springboard. I’d love to hear if any of you have ideas to share.

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. Andrea LeMahieu says:

    For me, the collage illustrations did not have a large impact on how I read and were not effective in helping me understand the “actual size” of the animals. Since the pictures were illustrations/ collages and not real photographs, I had a hard time believing that they were the actual size (at one point, I got out a ruler to measure) and it was hard for me to relate the illustration to the actual animal. I can imagine a child may similarly hard time connecting the pictures to the actual animal and using the collages as a reference point for the animal’s actual size.

    There is a very similar book to this a similar concept- “How Big Is It?” by Ben Hillman. In this text HIllman uses actual photographs next to everyday objects to compare size, and this is much more effective for me. For example, one page shows a giant squid next to a house to give the reader a sense of the squid’s size. I can marvel at the pictures in those books for hours and be amazed while the illustrations in “Actual Size” did not have the same impact on me as a reader. (Here is the link to the book, “How Big Is It? by Ben Hillman. Amazon lets you view some of the pages and I definitely recommend taking a few minutes to check them out!

  2. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Andrea — do you own How Big Is It? If so , can you bring it to class Thursday? I haven’t seen it in a while but remember it’s good. (I still prefer Actual Size, but it would be interesting to look at the two side by side.)

  3. Esther (Kyungeun) Lee says:

    I completely agree with Andrea that while the illustrations were beautiful, they did not add much to the content because real photographs of real objects were not being compared in the book.

    I also think that giving students the opportunity to put their own hands on the page or placing objects they may own (i.e. every day household objects) could have added more interactive elements to the book that it lacks.

  4. Andrea LeMahieu says:

    Lolly, I do not own it! (I wish I did, though). I will check in the lab tomorrow and see if they have it. If they do, I will for sure bring it.

  5. Jennifer Stacy says:

    I actually liked that the animals in the book were illustrations rather than pictures. I think I would have been distracted by other detail in real photographs, which would have detracted from the book’s focus on scale. I also hit a few illustrations that were surprising to me (some things I expected larger; some smaller), which I liked because I felt like the book did a good job challenging what I thought I knew or expected. I think it would be a fun conversation piece with a young child, yet also provides value to older children. I would have loved a book like this as a child – I was the kid who poured over encyclopedias and National Geographic – I can see myself as a child arming myself with the factoids in the back.

  6. Corinne Fischer says:

    Like Jennifer, I really enjoyed the illustrations in Actual Size. While reading Actual Size, I was thinking that the book is a gateway into nonfiction texts for very young children (PK-1). If I were that young and saw real pictures of animals in the way that Steve Jenkins illustrates them, I would be terrified. Imagine a large, real-life picture of a giant squid eye that takes up an entire two-page spread. I’m an adult and I find the thought unappealing, how would a five year old react? They might not want to read non-fiction about animals again.

  7. To be honest, Steve Jenkins’ Actual Size is quite a shocking/scary book even for me. On the first page of this book’s body, the author states that the animal pictures in this book are “shown at actual size”, so that readers will be able to experience some mimic “face-to-face” contact with the world’s most extraordinary or dangerous animals. Due to the huge actual size of certain animals shown in this book, many pictures only present a part of the animal. Yet with the complimentary information provided, readers are able to perceive a whole animal out of a part of its body. I think this book is a wonderful learning material for children who are exposed too often to those Disney animal movies through which they may get the not-so-correct impression that all animals are cuties and at a cuddling size. This information book serves as a juncture for the artistic depiction to reflect a semi reality with its novel design that intrigues children.

  8. Mark Loring says:

    I agree with your point at the need for students to put their hands on the page which is why I think this book would not serve well as a read aloud story. The kid needs to be more intimate with the book. I personally put my hand all over the pages, comparing my hand size with the size of these animals (especially the terrifying insects that are larger than my head). The only thing I think should have been included in the book would be some common animal (or human) sizes at the start that would help put the child in the frame of mind for comparison. Maybe the paw of a cat or the head on an adult would help them make size comparisons.

  9. Robin TF says:

    I initially vacillated between Andrea’s and Jennifer’s perspectives regarding illustration versus photographs. But while it does seem true that photographs would make the experience more real for children, I feel that the rich textures and 3D quality of the collages offer a more visually and mentally stimulating experience.

    The textures of the Actual Size paper collage illustrations hold the same appeal for me as the mixed-media collage of Mirror, or even more so the painting-collages of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. While The Very Hungry Caterpillar was not exactly a nature book, the illustrations could just have easily been photographs, but with photographs it would not have the same powerful impact that it does to this day, and I think that children may feel the same way.

    One advantage of checking out children’s books from the Cambridge Public Library is that I get to see which pages are the most worn, which appear to have caused the most excitement. Actual Size was in pretty poor shape, and seeing that it’s hard not to conclude that the children who caused its destruction were enthralled by what they were seeing.

    Reading it, I found myself instinctively holding my hand or fingers up to the pictures for size comparison. It would be interesting if they had an interactive component to the book; even just instructions like “put your hand in the gorilla’s hand” or something to that effect. Perhaps that isn’t necessary since the urge to compare is so automatic, but I think a book like this that focuses on size comparison may be missing a good opportunity for a more direct interactive reader experience.

  10. Andrea LeMahieu says:

    Lolly- I was able to get the book Actual Size. I will bring it tomorrow!

  11. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Great! Assuming you mean the other book, How Big Is It? I tried but it’s checked out at the branch near me.

  12. Christina Grayson says:

    This book made me uncomfortable… in a good way. Some of the artwork–the giant eye, the big cat face–actually made me squeamish, which I’m sure was the real effect Steve Jenkins intended. I’ve used another of his books, “What Do You Do With A Tail Like This?,” for a lesson on synthesis of informational text, and I was thinking this would be a great addition for an author study. It clearly is best for one-on-one reading, though; I agree with the previous comments that you need to be up close and personal with the book to get the intended effect.

  13. Kim Fernandes says:

    I’m in agreement with a lot of the comments about how the visuals (even though not actual photographs) still made adult readers like us squeamish — at a number of points in the book, particularly the spider, I was a little shaken by the idea of a creepy crawly thing just being that big. Given that touching/feeling this book is such an important part of the way young children will absorb the information contained within it, I think it would also be really interesting if this book had some component (although this would probably be hard to reproduce) that involved different kinds of materials so that kids could also feel what the skin of a particular animal or bird might be like. I really enjoyed the little factual paragraphs at the end of the text, and thought they were a very helpful addition for readers who might want to dig deeper.

  14. Cami Gordon says:

    I agree with Corinne and Jennifer in that I really enjoyed the illustrations over actual photographs. I thought it made the experience brighter and more fun as a reader. I totally hear Corinne’s point that actual pictures of the animals might be a bit too intimidating for a young reader. I also appreciated that this book could be read by a very young reader, but that older readers could read more information about the animals at the end. Overall, I enjoyed reading this as an adult and think it would be a fun read for younger and somewhat older readers alike.

  15. Kathleen Zheng says:

    I really enjoyed going through all the illustrations/collages here, but I do agree with Andrea that photographs would have made more of an impact on me. I think this book is best suited for an adult-child reading session together because the adult can talk about the pictures or ask questions to keep the child engaged. A child reading on his or her own might not feel like the illustrations are relatable enough, especially in today’s technological world where accessing high-quality photographs of all kinds of animals and nature only means a quick search through Google. However, I do think the pictures are creative and worth talking about with children.

  16. Shannon Moran says:

    Steve Jenkin’s Actual Size is a fun, engaging informational text. The collage style added to the sense that I might not know what animal I would be meeting next, adding to my excitement and enjoyment of the book. I particularly liked the pullout page to capture the saltwater crocodile’s jaw and and the legs of the goliath frog. The pullout feature emphasized the size of these animal features. I think students would enjoy being able to compare their own body features to those of animals, but I could see this being used for more purposeful academic instruction as well. Teachers could use this to introduce or augment other informational texts about animals. Actual Size could also be used to give students pre-writing ideas for research projects about animals. Additionally, the leveled nature of the text helps to make this book accessible to a variety of students.

  17. Nicole Hewes says:

    I read this book last year in Lolly’s module and now have it in my second grade classroom library. My students love this book! I think that the style of the illustrations is especially attractive to them — I had one student ask me how the illustrator got the idea to make the pictures in that way. I think, in particular, the way that Jenkins zooms in on just one feature to show its size really appeals to my students and gets their imaginations running.

    I love the idea of connecting this book to an art project — I should make sure that our art teacher has a copy!

  18. Janice Chong says:

    I enjoyed the illustrations and I think the collages would help make a great reading experience for a young child reading with an adult. The biggest strength of the collage format would be that it helps children look at and visually “feel” texture that they may not get in a photograph. It focuses children on texture, which seems to be an intended effect of the author/illustrator, and I can see how photographs may be distracting or just not engaging enough for young children. Content-wise, I thought the book would be interesting to children, but I have a hard time imagining it being used to meaningfully supplement instruction for a lower elementary audience. The book would probably be best used as a read-aloud.

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