Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Jenkins, Steve.  2011. Just a Second:  A Different Way to Look at Time. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.
ISBN 978-0-618-70896-3
Book Cover 

This non-fiction picture book explores the idea of time.  Steve Jenkins finishes the first page by stating, “But a lot of things can happen in a second.  Some surprising—even amazing—things can take place in a very short time.  Other events unfold more slowly…and that’s what this book is about.”  Then Jenkins begins with the time increment of one second, and in the next pages, gives various ways to measure seconds that move beyond the “usual” idea of time.  For example, a bumblebee beats its wings 200 times in one second! 

Then Jenkins moves onto the concept of “one minute.”   This is followed by a linear explanation of one hour, one day, one week (“Human development destroys an area of forest equal in size to 550,000 footballs fields”), one month, one year, “very quick,” “very long.”  The back matter includes a simple spiral map of the history of the universe and a bar graph showing the Earth’s population by regions.  There is a clear timeline showing the life span of various plants and animals—how long they live and die.  The last page includes a chart about the history of time and timekeeping, about how people told time in ancient times and how that changed over the years. 


Dr. Vardell mentions Steve Jenkins in her book, saying, “Steve Jenkins uses collage illustrations in his works, including the concept book, What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? (Houghton Mifflin, 2003).”  In this book about time, he continues with his unique style of collage illustrations, but the topic covers more detail than a traditional concept book for young children.  Time is a slippery topic for children in the first place, and the genius of Jenkins is in tying it to concrete things and offering a wide variety of choices to consider.

Jenkins mostly focuses his facts and art on the natural world, which unifies the many facts into a clear theme.  Ecology and environmental responsibility are smoothly included, beginning in the discussion of one minute.  We learn, “Around the world, 59,000 barrels of oil are used (almost 15,000 of them in the United States.)”  This fact is accompanied by an image of spilled oil.  He does not even need to say anything about our irresponsibility with our resources--the image itself speaks clearly.  He also tells us statements that seem simply factual, but also hold hidden warnings, such as the fact that the world’s population increases by 149 people in one minute or that in one year, "Global warming causes a sea level rise of about 1/8 of an inch (3 millimeters.)" My daughters and I engaged in several thoughtful conversations sparked by his carefully-selected facts.

As far as being a trustworthy source (accuracy), he does write in the back matter, “The information in this book comes from a variety of printed and Internet sources.  Some facts are well established…Others are estimates.  In those cases, I’ve used multiple credible sources.”  He gives a list of additional reading, but he does not list those multiple credible sources, which I think would have strengthened this book as a non-fiction resource.  I suppose that the fact that an extremely well-known and trusted children’s publisher published it does give it additional credibility.  Jenkins gives an immense number of facts and figures, which is probably why he did not list all of his resources.

The paper collages are detailed and beautifully designed, inviting a reader to sit down and flip through the pages.  Even though my youngest child did not care to listen to me read the book, she enjoyed looking at all the images. As Dr. Vardell points out in her book, nonfiction books are not always read straight-through as fiction books are.  "The concept density is just too intense for one sitting" (260) and that seemed to be true of my child.  However, she did return to it repeatedly and learned something new each time, which is the purpose of an informational book.

By moving from fast increments of time to longer periods of time, Jenkins keeps the organization as helpful as possible when working with this difficult topic.  He also changes the background color of the pages when he changes the time increments he is referencing, which helps readers keep track of what time frame they are reading about.  Using art and facts that focus on the natural world unifies all the various concepts throughout the book, as does his artistic style.  What could have been a chaotic, chunky mess of facts ends up being a smooth, interesting collection.


"Jenkins brings fresh perspective to the passage of time in a thought-provoking picture book that features his typically elegant cut-paper collages. With a particular focus on the natural world and mankind's impact on it, Jenkins lists diverse events that occur in the space of a second, a minute, an hour, and so on."—Publishers Weekly, Oct 31, 2011

"Fascinating though it is, the flat presentation has the quality of a museum exhibit, and some kids may sift through it just as quickly. In short doses, though, the art is clever, and the back matter regarding the history of the universe, Earth's population, and the life span of species is pretty staggering."—Booklist, Nov 1, 2011

"With his trademark torn- and cut-paper collages in rich earth tones, Jenkins renders this package both eye-catching and mind-boggling. Teachers will find good jumping-off points here for math, science, and history discussions. With this browser's delight around, it's a sure bet that more than one young reader will be spotted trying to count blinks per second."—School Library Journal, Dec 1, 2011


  •  Invite students to create a timeline of their own lives. 
  •  Ask students to use creative ways of measuring time, like, “The length of time it took to wear out a pair of jeans” or “How long it took me to eat a carrot.” 
  • This book could be studied with other books about time, such as:  My Grandmother’s Clock by Geraldine McCaughrean, which links time to daily events around the house, like how long it takes a tub of bathwater to get cold.  A Second Is A Hiccup by Hazel Hutchins, which explains units of time in a variety of ways, such as, "a year is the time it takes to grow into new shoes." 
  • It could be used as a part of an author study, with:  What Can You Do With a Tail Like This, Animals Upside Down; Never Smile at a Monkey (and 17 Other Important Things to Remember); Down, Down, Down;  Time to Eat; Time To Sleep; Time for a Bath...Jenkins is very prolific.
  • Put up a "Did You Know?" board with questions that can be answered from reading this book ("How much does your hair grow in one month?") or others of his and have students do a scavenger hunt in the books to find the answers. 
  • Have an ecologist speak about environmental issues. 


My children would not sit through this book, but I adored it. The art was incredible and I loved the detailed, unusual facts and how they related to time.  I learned so many new things!

Works Referenced, except for the works by Steve Jenkins listed in the Connections secton

Hutchins, Hazel.  2004.  A Second is a Hiccup. Toronto, Canada:  Scholastic, Canada.

McCaughrean, Geraldine.  2002.  My Grandmother's Clock.  Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin.

Vardell, Sylvia.  2008.  Children's Literature in Action.  Westport, CT:  Libraries Unlimited.

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