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This is a photo of a boy holding the Animals by the Numbers book.

Book Review: Animals by the Numbers

Is your child gunning for my job as Head Nerd at Data Soapbox? (No?)

Do they really like animal facts, at least? (Of course.)*

Great! Allow me to recommend Steve Jenkins’s Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Animal Infographics. It’s been on my reading list for a while, and we finally picked it up at our local public library a few weeks ago.

This is a gem of a book for adults and kids to read together. It showcases diverse members of the animal kingdom, from the itty bitty (and virtually indestructible) tardigrade to the 15-ton whale shark. It also features (be still my geeky heart) at least 10 different types of data visualizations:

  • Bar charts
  • Bubble charts
  • Donut charts
  • Dot matrix charts
  • A flow diagram
  • A map
  • Pictograms
  • Pie charts
  • Radial charts
  • A tree diagram

At our house, we read a few pages of this book every night. For each infographic, I’d read the introduction, and then I’d walk my 6-year-old through how to interpret the accompanying charts. Then, I’d ask him questions like, “Which animal jumps the farthest?” or “How much do cats sleep?” He was super stoked to figure out each answer.

There’s also plenty for adults to learn from this book. I was surprised to discover that the oldest-living animal ever recorded is a 226-year-old koi fish. (It edged out a 225-year-old giant tortoise.) My husband learned that mosquitos kill more humans than any other animal: about 1 million per year due to mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria.

There was also a very timely fact about the volume of cicadas:

This is a photo showing that a cicada's noises are 120 decibels, which is the same as a firetruck siren.

And then I always love data visualizations about data visualization:

This is a photo of a pie chart. The title is "Making this book (How I spent my time)." The slices are 35% research, 5% staring into space, 15% making illustrations, 15% design, 8% calculating facts and figures, and 22% writing and rewriting.

It looks like Steve Jenkins has written a whole series of new and forthcoming infographic books.  There are volumes on insects, dinosaurs, disasters, “one day,” Earth, and the solar system. Excuse the cliché, but shut up and take my library card.

* My younger son LOVES animal facts. I know that the smallest bat is a bumblebee bat and the largest is a flying fox. I correctly pronounce the “Gila” in Gila monster. I have endured everyone else at my dinner table doing impressions of a sifaka lemur. All of it is both amazing and exhausting.

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