Recently I took my daughters to OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry), and we were looking at the various live creatures in the room at the back of the Life Science Hall: reptiles and amphibians, fish, and insects. One of my favorites is the big terrarium of walking stick bugs, the sort that look kind of like bits of leaves. Sometimes the staff will pull one out and let you hold it. (I know I’ve got a picture of my daughter holding one, but I can’t for the life of me find it, so instead I’ve got these pictures of them playing with a wild praying mantis at a zoo in Taiwan.)
While we were standing there admiring the walking sticks, there was another little boy who came up and watched them excitedly. I showed him how you can blow gently on them, which makes them sway as if they’re leaves fluttering in a breeze, which he thought was pretty cool. Then his mom came over, saw what he was looking at, and shuddered. She made some comment about how she can’t stand creepy bugs, that they’re just gross. I thought, well, that’s too bad—and I hope this little boy still gets a chance to make up his own mind about bugs.
Angela DiTerlizzi had a similar experience with her own daughter Sophia, and that’s what inspired her latest picture book, Some Bugs. Okay, sure, there are some bugs (like mosquitoes) that just seem like pests and if it weren’t for their spot in the ecosystem I could do without them entirely. But lots of bugs are actually quite cool once you get to know them, and Some Bugs celebrates the beautiful diversity in fun rhyming verse.
The illustrations by Brendan Wenzel are really great—they’re cute versions of the bugs, rendered in a mix of all sorts of media. It’s a much-needed reminder that there are all sorts of different bugs, and a lot of them are pretty awesome.
If you’re looking for something a bit more wordy, check out Sarah Albee’s Bugged: How Insects Changed History (with illustrations by Robert Leighton). Albee gives a fast-paced overview of human history, focusing on times when insects have influenced its course. (Hint: a lot of these involve mosquitoes and malaria). She discusses insects that are beneficial to humans like silkworms and honeybees, and throws in curious factoids about bugs throughout.
The book is designed for kids, with lots of punny headlines and “Insect Aside” sidebars. Albee has also helpfully put the more gruesome tidbits in “TMI” sections so that squeamish readers can skip past those. (But really, those are some of the best parts!)
The illustrations are a mix of goofy cartoons by Robert Leighton and various photos, paintings, and the sorts of things you’d expect to see in a history book. For some reason, though, the entire book is printed in purple and green (including the text) which I found a little hard on the eyes.
It’s a nice blend of history and entomology, and seems pretty well-researched. At the back of the book, there’s a glossary, resources for further reading (both online and off), citations of sources, and an index. All in all, something that is as informative as a textbook but a good deal more entertaining.
Finally, if you just can’t get enough of cool illustrations, check out The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins. This one isn’t new, but it’s still one of my favorites. Jenkins’ illustrations are made with cut-paper and are incredibly detailed. The variety of beetles is astounding and beautiful, and many of the illustrations are life-sized to show the huge differences in sizes. The book has a lot of facts about beetles, but the pictures are really what make it shine.
With books like these, I hope that plenty of kids will grow up excited about bugs instead of grossed out by them!
Disclosure: GeekDad received review copies of these books.