If you like bugs and picture books, here are three that you might consider adding to your library. They’re all quite different from each other: One Beetle Too Many is about Charles Darwin and — to be honest — is a little less about the bugs than the man. Step Gently Out is a poem illustrated with gorgeous close-up photos of various insects (and a spider). The Beetle Book presents a host of interesting facts about beetles with fantastic cut-paper illustrations.
Keep reading for a closer look at each of these books!
One Beetle Too Many
If you want your kids to know who Charles Darwin was, you could pull up his Wikipedia entry and show that to them. Or you could just give them all some Benadryl, because it’ll probably just put them to sleep.
Another option is to read them this book: One Beetle Too Many, written by Kathryn Lasky and illustrated by Matthew Trueman. It’s the story of Charles Darwin from his childhood to his training as a clergyman to his voyage aboard the Beagle and beyond. Although it is a picture book, it’s very heavy on the text and there’s a lot of information packed into it.
With so much to be said about Darwin, Lasky does a good job of choosing which anecdotes to relate and how much detail to include about Darwin’s theories — she doesn’t just skim over things, but it’s not overwhelming, either. I appreciated the fact that she talked a little bit about Darwin’s beliefs (he believed in a Creator God, but not in Jesus) and talked about his disagreements with his father. I also just liked the way you get to know Darwin as a fascinating personality, rather than just the originator of his theories.
Trueman’s illustrations are superb, and full of life — literally. You’ll see that there are plants (leaves, flowers, clippings) incorporated into his paintings, which are rich with details. I think most of us picture Darwin as a balding, white-bearded old man, so it was refreshing to have a book that started with little Charles as a kid, and then as a student, and young man. In fact, it’s only on the last page of the book, toward the end of his life, that you get the typical Darwin portrait with the full beard.
For younger kids, One Beetle Too Many‘s text-to-picture ratio might be a bit high; my own daughters were interested in the story, but there’s only so long they wanted to look at an illustration before they wanted to turn the page. However, for middle grade readers this is an excellent introduction to Darwin: though it’s in a picture book format, there’s probably as much text in there as a simple chapter book. There’s a bibliography included at the back, but from a quick glance at the titles I’m guessing they’re more a list of references used by the author than recommended reading for the target audience.
Did you ever see the movie Microcosmos? If not, you really should. Despite the goofy cover image of a mantis wearing shades, it’s not a goofy movie. It’s a series of extreme close-up shots of very small things: insects, snails, spiders. It has minimal narration, and mostly just lets you marvel at the sheer amount of life that happens all around us that we rarely see. Note to parents: it’s a pretty kid-friendly movie, but I’ll warn you that there’s an intense snail sex scene that you should be prepared for. (I’m kidding. Nothing could prepare you for it.)
When I first opened up Step Gently Out, the first thing that came to mind was watching Microcosmos. There’s a little bit of text — a poem by Helen Frost — and the real star of the show is the photography by Rick Lieder. It’s not a long book (32 pages) but if you like bugs you’ll love looking at these amazing images. There is a section at the end of the book that describes the insects and the spider in the photographs, giving their names and a paragraph about each one, so you do learn a little bit about the “characters” in the book.
In 40 pages, Jenkins packs a pile of fascinating facts about beetles, starting with the definition of a beetle and its basic parts and then moving on to lots of beetle abilities and some of the extremes of the beetle world. What I love is that each page includes huge, colorful, detailed illustrations but also a small section of silhouettes showing the actual sizes of the beetles pictured.
The Beetle Book is one that you and your kids will love to flip through again and again, because there’s so much to look at (and because beetles are so fascinating in their variety). The paper illustrations are incredibly detailed and are just gorgeous. For more about Steve Jenkins and how he makes a book, check out his website.
Disclosure: Candlewick Press provided review copies of One Beetle Too Many and Step Gently Out. Houghton Mifflin provided a review copy of The Beetle Book.