Tuesday, April 9, 2019


By Owen Davey

(Flying Eye Books, 2018)

I expose my bias when I say I have a hard time finding nonfiction books for children to recommend. Part of it is a chronic problem in the publishing industry: books may pack a lot of information but they lack in entertainment. Would a boy pick up this book if he weren’t assigned a project on, say, Brazil or guinea pigs? If he did pick it up for fun, would he actually read it or just peruse the pictures and a few sidebars? A book may have compelling facts, but too often they are not compellingly presented. Too many nonfiction books for young readers make me feel like I need to buy some poster board and start covering it with facts that begin with the phrase, “Did you know...?”

It’s a good thing I didn’t glance at the back cover of Bonkers about Beetles because there it is again: “Did you know...?” (I still can’t read the text that follows.) I’ll confess that I have spent very little time thinking about beetles; to be sure, I’ve never wanted to become a coleopterist (a person who studies these creatures). Perhaps a true test of this book is whether or not I have more interest in beetles after reading it. I’m still not going to change careers, but at least I’ll give beetles a second glance. Success!

The language in the book is fairly simple and clear, providing for smooth reading and comprehension for students in grade five. Owen Davey provides plenty of pictures that support the text. In fact, the book is crawling with brilliantly colored and patterned beetles, so much so that it may be overwhelming. Does the violin beetle, for instance, get its due with a single sentence as compared to the mole beetle? Probably not.

Two beetles—fireflies and ladybugs—are “Featured Creatures” and given double-page spreads, making them stand out. Others getting shorter shrift will be memorable based on how much their trivia facts resonate with the individual reader. For example, I was drawn to the fact that rove beetles resemble army ants and infiltrate ant colonies to eat their young. Gross maybe but clever! Moreover, the iron-clad beetle is well named—its exterior is so hardy, a person could step on it without causing damage.

There’s a conscious attempt to entertain the reader based on how facts are grouped and presented. Page headings include “You Can’t Run, But You Can Hide” and “Dress for Success”. The best of these groupings may be “And the Award Goes to...” with honorees such as the tiger beetle as the fastest (eight feet per second!), the cashew stem girdler as most fashion-minded and the bearded weevil whose “bushy whiskers” give it “the look of a 19th century English gentleman.” (You won’t find that on the Wikipedia page!)

I do have a few quibbles with the book. When labeling the parts of a beetle, numbers are somewhat ambiguously placed beside the particular diagram. A simple line touching the intended part would add clarity to a young reader who may confuse, say, the antennae with the front legs. There is a “Conservation” page about the importance of beetles but there isn’t mention of the destructive nature of some, such as the pine beetle. This would offer some balance. Finally, the index is organized by scientific family rather than simply alphabetically. This makes it more cumbersome to search for the page that mentioned the violin beetle (Family Carabidae) or the horned dung beetle (Family Scarabaeidae). That said, I do think many young readers will be satisfied with Bonkers about Beetles. Mission accomplished.

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