I had already chosen this theme on our last library day when I stumbled across a few bugs books and thought, “Yeah, bugs are big in July! I’ll cover bugs!” Then we went to a nearby state park and signed the kids up for the Wisconsin Explorer program, and–lo and behold!–one of the shared topics between the two age groups is bugs! Because “bugs” is a kind of vague term, I’m going to go ahead and include insects, arachnids, and other creepy critters with exoskeletons and various numbers of legs! (This is a Fun Fourth Friday because we were in the middle of moving on the third Thursday and had no internet access!)
National Geographic Kids Look & Learn: Bugs (2015, infant to preschool): This board book has versatility for use from the smallest readers (board book style, enlarged photographs of insects with simple backgrounds) to still-small readers who want to know more about bugs (simple labels, fact bubbles, and interactive read-aloud text). Each spread has a large photo and a few simple sentences.
Big Bug Little Bug: A Book of Opposites, by Paul Stickland (2010, toddler to preschool): This concept book is a bright examination of some pretty wild-looking bugs. The bugs are stylized to be cute and not particularly realistic, but readers can identify things like pillbugs (roly-polies), ladybugs, and rhinoceros beetles among the psychedelic menagerie. Not all of the contrasts are strictly opposites (stripes and spots, for instance), but the huge pop-up at the end is sure to please every little reader!
Beetle Bop, by Denise Fleming (2007, preschool to early elementary): A very simple book of beetles, real beetle types are introduced just through bright illustrations (“created,” according to the title page, “by pouring colored cotton fiber through hand-cut stencils”) and simple descriptive text. I recognized whirligig beetles, click beetles, fireflies, and ladybugs, to name a few. Because of its simplicity, this is a great read-aloud or browsing book for very young listeners and readers.
ABC Insects, by the American Museum of Natural History (2014, toddler to early elementary): This oversized board book introduces a different insect for each letter of the alphabet along with an interesting fact about each one. The pages have blocks of color for each letter, a large capital letter, and a photographic image of the insect. The information is presented in simple phrasing with some specialized vocabulary (like predators and antennae) that is easily understood with context or a little explaining. Even X has an insect: the Xerces blue butterfly, thought to be extinct since the 1940s. If my youngest hadn’t already learned the basics of the alphabet, I would probably just buy this book (instead of checking it out on occasion) because it seems like the kind of thing he would have really liked when he was littler and needed prompting to be interested in books! (GirlChild, on the other hand, insists that she can’t sleep because she’s thinking about the scary velvet ant! It might have more to do with the fact that the house is in upheaval as we prepare to move!)
The Very Clumsy Click Beetle, by Eric Carle (1999, preschool to early elementary): Eric Carle is famous for his collage art, and his stories often feature the passage of time as an element of the story. They also very often include insects and crawly things (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Grouchy Ladybug, The Very Lonely Firefly, and The Very Busy Spider, for example), and often have a novelty element (texture, cut-outs, lights, etc.). This book happens to have a little bit of each of those characteristics, and the novelty in it happens to be a noise-maker! (This caught both GirlChild and me off guard–I thought the computer was sparking!) A clumsy little click beetle falls on his back, and a wise old click beetle teaches him the click-and-flip method of righting himself. He tries unsuccessfully in front of several different animals, but when a human boy approaches and the need is great, he succeeds! Like many of his other books, this book also includes a brief scientific explanation of the background to the story, so there is more detail about the clicking for an adult or older reader’s information.
Butterfly, Butterfly: A Book of Colors, by Petr Horáček (2007, preschool to early elementary): The large text looks almost poetic or artistic in itself as it mingles with the simple acrylic paintings of the art. It tells of Lucy, a little girl who finds a colorful butterfly in the garden one day but can’t find it the next. She does, however, find a variety of other creatures of various hues (with cut-outs in the pages for a peek to the next illustration and the previous one). When she has almost given up, she lies down in the grass, looks up in the sky, and sees the butterfly above her (as a large pop-out). I love the art in this one! (The author/illustrator also has a book called The Fly which is a playful first-person account of a fly’s danger-filled day as he just tries to live his life and get along with others!)
These Bees Count!, by Alison Formento, illustrated by Sarah Snow (2012, preschool to early elementary): This book tells the story of a small class going to a bee farm on a field trip. (The field trip is a great setting because it makes sharing facts and childlike understanding logical.) The middle part of the book is a kind of counting story (supposedly the bees “talking” as they fly to work). (It does not share a huge amount of important information in this section, so perhaps it is intended as a kind of mental break for very young listeners.) The field trip story picks up again as they discuss what bees do and how honey is collected and processed. The last page of the book is written for adults and shares more information about the some of the topics discussed in the story. This book would be perfect for a unit study on bees in preschool or primary classes.
Butterfly Counting, by Jerry Pallotta and Shennen Berseni (2015, preschool to elementary): Since this is partly a counting book, I am tempted to lower the upper end of the age range, but, really, there is a lot of beautiful photo-realistic art and scientific and linguistic detail in this book, and I believe it would appeal as a read-aloud for younger children interested in the topic (or as a classroom introduction to a unit on insects for up to middle elementary) or as independent reading for an interested older reader. The vocabulary is pretty sophisticated, and the book shares the word for butterfly in over twenty different languages (from Tagalog to German–search YouTube for the video comparing German to other languages…I love “schmetterling” (butterfly) almost as much as “krankenwagen” (ambulance)!) Still, it is a counting book, and small children can count the butterflies on each page, from zero (no butterflies on Antarctica!) to the twenty-five Piano Keys. The last page is a single brightly-colored insect (and tells that the word for butterfly in Great Britain is…butterfly), but the tricky insect is actually a type of grasshopper. The author has written a number of other insect-themed concept books, and the illustrator has a number of other insect books under her belt, too.
Big Bug Surprise, by Julia Gran (2007, early to middle elementary): Prunella is preparing to bring a special bug to show-and-tell, and she spouts random insect and crawly-thing facts as she starts her day, but everyone (from her parents to the bus driver to her teacher) seem kind of exasperated by her bits of trivia (“Not now, Prunella!”). When her off-hand observation that the bee that has flown into the classroom window just as she begins her show-and-tell is a queen bee (which never flies alone) leads to a classroom full of bees, Prunella saves the day by luring them outside (robed in white and toting a jelly sandwich) and showing them a new place to nest. The class thanks her for saving the day, but when she reveals her surprise insect for show-and-tell, they seem less appreciative: it’s a dung beetle. Really, though, all their declarations of how gross it is are really signs of interest, and they say, “Tell us more, Prunella!” An appendix of “Big Bug Facts” can be found on the last page of the book.
Bugs by the Numbers: Facts and Figures for Multiple Types of Bugbeasties, by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss (2011, preschool to elementary): The format and topic of the book make it the sort of thing that may be intended for one age group but accessible and enjoyable by a much broader audience. The first spread introduces the text with a poem, part of which proclaims, “Not all critters that fly or crawl on the ground/Are technically bugs, but we both have found/Most folks call them bugs, and since they do,/We figured, why not? We’d call them “bugs” too.” Each spread thereafter has a “bug” (the image of the bug created by numbers significant to the information somehow) with number-based facts (three or four per creature) and artistic flaps to lift to find more information. Perfect for an adult to share with a budding entomologist or for independent elementary-aged readers to pore over on their own or with like-minded friends, the book ends with a little poem about the ways that bugs benefit humans (and a list of the fonts used to create the images). Other books in this vein include Alphabeasties and AlphaSaurs.
Bugs Galore, by Peter Stein, illustrated by Bob Staake (2012, preschool to early elementary): This rhyming book seems intended as a read-aloud with its repetitive, rhyming, and alliterative text. The mainly geometric illustrations are in no way realistic, but the bugs and experiences mentioned in the text are. Definitely a good book to read at the start of a storytime or unit about bugs as it could lead to discussions about the types of insects and crawly things the listeners have experienced.
Some Bugs, words by Angela DiTerlizzi, bugs by Brendan Wenzel (2014, preschool to early elementary):This is another great rhyming book to introduce bugs to a group of children. While the illustrations in this book have somewhat stylized insects, they are recognizable as real bugs (and have a whole spread at the back of the book where each insect is pictured and named). This book is actually simpler as far as the text goes, but the illustrations are much busier, so this might be a fun book to include in a classroom library after a read-aloud for further browsing. Because of the semi-realistic illustrations, it would be easy enough to poll children about which bugs they recognize and which they’ve actually seen or some other interactive activity to kick off an insect unit, particularly since the last page of the story encourages readers to “find some bugs in your backyard!”
Picnic! A Day in the Park, by Joan Holub, illustrated by Will Terry (2008, preschool to early elementary): Although this book is simpler than the previous ones, it is intended as an early pre-independent reader. (The child should recognize some words but not necessarily be able to actually read fluently through the text alone.) There is basic dialogue, rhyming, and many simple names to help make comprehension easier. The main characters are ants invading a picnic and the fireflies/lightning bugs that help light their way home.
Hi! Fly Guy, by Tedd Arnold (2005, early elementary): This early independent reader tells the story of when Buzz (the boy) meets Fly Guy (the fly) when he’s on the lookout for a cool pet to share at the Amazing Pet Show. The very brief chapters have just a simple sentence or two on each page, and large, funny illustrations fill up the rest of the space. Like all the other Fly Guy books, this one is silly and just a little bit gross in bits. (He is a fly after all!)
Bugs and Us (DK Readers, Level 1), by Patricia J. Murphy (2012, early elementary): For a level 1 (beginning to read) book, this book about bugs has a lot of detail. Some of the sentences are short, but others are more complex and contain a number of somewhat sophisticated vocabulary words, so I would say that this book probably requires more adult interaction than most “early reader” books unless the reader happens to have a strong interest and background knowledge in insects and spiders. This particular title focuses on how we interact with bugs, both positively and negatively, and how we can both help and be helped by them. Bugs Bugs Bugs! (level 2) is another book in this series, and it has much more specific information about a number of interesting insects and might be most tempting to a reader who really likes the gritty side of insect life…a lot of fighting, eating, and being eaten in this one!
The Delicious Bug, by Janet Perlman (2009, early elementary): Two chameleons, Willy and Wally, happen to both catch a particularly tasty bug at the same time. Although they are usually good at sharing and kind to one another, they end up arguing over this catch. Things get pretty heated, and they start name calling (“Just back off, shlobberface!” (talking with your tongue hanging out makes enunciation difficult) and “Why don’t YOU back off, dragonlipsh!” are as nasty as they get), then actually fighting one another, and all the animal spectators are getting uncomfortable and embarrassed for them. In all the ruckus, the coveted bug gets free, and–after the chameleons reconcile following a dangerous close call–the beleaguered creature falls dead at the feet of the pleased tomato frog. Since the chameleons have always shared with him in the past, he invites them both to share the meal with him, and they all agree that it is the most delicious bug they’ve ever eaten. Then the chameleons begin making reparations with all the animals they inconvenienced during their row, and peace is restored to their forest. (This story is clearly more about getting along and sharing than it is about the actual bug…)
Hurry and the Monarch, by Antoine Ó Flatharta, illustrated by Meilo So (2005, early elementary): Disguising information about monarch migration as a story of the interaction between a land tortoise named Hurry from Wichita Falls, Texas, and a migrating monarch from Canada, this book gives tidbits of specific detail relating to the annual migration (like months of the year when it happens, specific cities, and life cycle details). At the end of the book, there is an afterword that gives more scientific detail to piece together the events of the story.
Diary of a Fly, by Doreen Cronin, pictures by Harry Bliss (2007, early to middle elementary): Dated June 7 through August 2, this “diary” tells about a fly’s day-to-day experiences and reveals facts about flies in a sly way (often utilizing the illustrations to get the full point across, like when Spider’s grandfather makes Fly feel good when he tells her that she is so very important to the food chain…). The underlying theme is that Fly has some pretty cool talents and that, even though she doesn’t seem to fit the stereotypical superhero mold, “[t]he world needs all kinds of heroes.”
Fancy Nancy: Explorer Extraordinaire!, by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser (2009, early to middle elementary): Fancy Nancy and her friend Bree form a club called the Explorers Extraordinaire Club, and this book presents the rules of the club (and is fashioned partly like a scrapbook and partly as the story of their adventures). The title page includes this note: “Everything in this book is scientifically accurate. (That’s a fancy way of saying it’s all true.)” If you have little girls who are a blend of fancy and frolicsome (kind of like GirlChild!), they may identify, but this is one Fancy Nancy book that might have a broader appeal. It gives good tips for young explorers (staying in places you know and are allowed to go, not handling butterflies, how to treat flowers and trees when exploring) and has actual photographs of a few different insects, plants, and birds. It also provides recipes and instructions for some fun activities and treats (like Nancy’s Extra-Fancy Lemonade (planning to do this with GirlChild and some friends with raspberries from our bush!) and simple bird feeders). I think I’m going to check this book out again (or possibly buy it for my little ornithologist/entomologist/wordsmith)! (Fancy Nancy: Bonjour, Butterfly is a slightly simpler, much girlier story (about Fancy Nancy having to miss her friend Bree’s birthday party to attend her grandparents’ 50th anniversary celebration) that has butterflies as a consolation prize at the end.)
I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are, by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas (2015, elementary): A fly buzzes into a classroom of students and discovers that, of course, they are learning about butterflies–not regular flies–of course. He informs the class that he, too, goes through metamorphosis, and he tells them the heartwarming story of being laid (as an egg) in a pile of dog doo along with his 500 brothers and sisters and his transition into a poop-and-trash eating maggot (or “larva,” as the scientists would call him), then pupa, then full-fledged fly–parent, grandparent, still a poop-eater. He then shares facts about his wing speed, the throwing-up-before-eating “myth” (not really a myth…but they only throw up on solid foods), spread of disease, lifespan, and crime-solving capabilities (er, well, helping determine how long a body has been dead, at least). It ends with a fun glossary, bibliography, and a panel of experts on flies. Simply written, this book has appeal for most elementary grades (if you think they can handle some of the grossness) as a fun source for nonfiction fly information presented in a picture book format.
DK Eyewonder: Bugs, written and edited by Penelope York (2015, early to middle elementary): DK can do no wrong when it comes to nonfiction books. Enlarged photographs, interesting information, arrangements by heading (which can be read through or found in the table of contents), and a typical glossary and index all make this book an accessible browse or for simple research. Rich scientific vocabulary means that independent readers will need to use context clues and the glossary for a full understanding, but casual readers will enjoy just looking at the photographs and reading blurbs of information as it interests them.
Insiders: Insects & Spiders (2008, middle to upper elementary): I was previously unfamiliar with this series of nonfiction books, but this is an interesting title with in-depth information. Less cluttered than a typical DK book (which isn’t a criticism…the “clutter” is part of the draw of those books!), the pages feature extreme close-ups, diagrams, graphs, and illustrations. Each creature featured includes a little “fact sheet” kind of preview that includes a world map showing its range, a description of its habitat and diet, measurements and an image of the insect on a child’s hand for size reference, and the creature’s scientific name. The page spread either features a photograph or a detailed illustration of the creature with many labels and other information. The introductory page for the group of creature includes a diagram of the typical internal organs and a labeled diagram of the typical body parts. Includes a glossary and index.
Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins (2003, upper elementary to middle school): 11-year-old Gregor is missing summer camp this year because his grandmother is no longer lucid enough to care for his toddler sister, nicknamed Boots, while their mother goes to work. His father has been gone for “two years, seven months, and thirteen days”–suddenly disappeared without a trace–and everyone has their own assumptions about what happened. When Gregor brings Boots down into the laundry room of their apartment building that first hot afternoon of summer, she disappears into a vent in the floor, and Gregor chases after her. They find themselves falling for a long, long time, and when they finally land, they come face to face with what Boots calls simply “beeg bugs!”–four-foot long cockroaches that can speak (though a little oddly). These “crawlers” (as they come to find out they’re called in the Underland) play a big role in the rest of this adventure/quest story that also features regular-sized (but incredibly pale) humans and enormous bats, rats, and spiders.
(If you happen to know of any really great books about bugs, let us know in the comments! I still struggle to find good middle school and up books on some of my favorite picture book topics!)