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The Beetle Book Hardcover – April 3, 2012
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*Starred Review* Through striking illustrations and intriguing information, this large-format book introduces the world of beetles. The text opens with the startling information that one quarter of every kind of plant and animal on Earth is a beetle. After an overview of body structure, sections are devoted to topics such as beetles’ senses, behaviors, life cycles, communications, and defenses. The fully illustrated format will appeal to a younger audience, but the book is better suited to children who are already familiar with words such as toxin or pupa. Well regarded for his collages of cut and torn papers, Jenkins is in top form in these illustrations, offering intricate, precise images of beetles isolated on broad white pages. The pictures combine clarity of form with subtlety of texture and color. A typical double-page spread features several large-scale individual pictures with small-type paragraphs of information appearing alongside them. At the bottom of some pages, black silhouettes show the actual sizes of beetles pictured above. While the book lacks such traditional back matter as a glossary, source notes, and bibliographies, it includes a list of each species mentioned, its Latin name, and its locale. A richly varied and visually riveting introduction to beetles, both familiar and strange. Grades 3-5. --Carolyn Phelan
"Jenkins' splendid array of beetles will surely produce at least one budding coleopterist...distinguished both as natural history and work of art"--Kirkus, starred review
"Jenkins brings his signature style to the world of beetles...As always, the design of the book is exemplary."--Horn Book
"A richly varied and visually riveting introduction to beetles, both familiar and strange."--Booklist, starred review
"Jenkins's enthusiasm for his subject shines through in this rich and varied compendium."--School Library Journal, starred review
"Jenkins offers a wealth of information about beetles and presents it impeccably."--Publishers Weekly, starred review
"The combination of sophisticated look and highly visual approach makes this accessible to a wide audience, and this is one that'll certainly be picked up immediately if left strategically on a library table."--Bulletin
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I will admit I was a little put off when I first opened the book and saw how small the font size is, but I quickly got used to it and realized that its size means the text doesn't compete with the illustrations. Beetle names are in boldface in the text, which is helpful. Another nice touch is that the author-illustrator gives us many of the beetles in black silhouette to show their actual sizes.
Jenkins lets the stark white backgrounds set off the beetles' strong colors and shapes, taking full advantage of negative space and the beetles' symmetry to create graphic art-influenced illustrations. Many of the beetles are static, portrait-style, but some are shown in action, most notably two rhinoceros beetles dueling to win a mate. The illustrations are all the more breathtaking when you realize that they were done entirely using "torn- and cut-paper collage." Jenkins has joined the rarified ranks of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert in his use of the technique.
The science content may remind you of an Eyewitness book. The Beetle Book is filled with fun facts. For example, have you ever heard of the forest fire beetle? "[It] has special heat-sensing spots on its body. It can detect a fire from more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) away. These beetles fly to the site of the forest fire and lay their eggs in charred wood--wood that is now free of predators." I thought he was going to say the beetles sensed the fire and flew away from it, but instead the beetles fly to the fire!
Stinky beetles, shiny beetles, poisonous beetles (if you eat them!) and camouflaged beetles--Jenkins introduces readers to a colorful cast of characters. One of my favorites is an Australian beetle called Wallace's longicorn, which has a body that's not quite 4 inches long and antennae that can reach 15 inches or so in length.
I'll just end with one final fact, Jenkins' opening sentence: "Line up every kind of plant and animal on Earth... and one of every four will be a beetle." So yes, we're outnumbered. But if you've got a budding scientist on your hands, get him or her The Beetle Book.
Steve Jenkins does not talk down to children, nor does he speak up to adults. He writes in a forthright, intelligent and simple manner that should appeal to all ages, I would say beginning from the age of four (I cannot put an age cap on this book since it can be equally enjoyed by all). It's an interesting size - not too large and not too small (my measurements are circa 10-1/4" by 10-1/4").
I got curious about beetles when I saw one in my kitchen. I've always taken them for granted as disposable (I don't like to kill lone insects so I usually find a way to transport them outdoors). But this time I said "Wait! What is the story of this beetle? What it is really like? What is the history of the species?" And that's what led me to read this book. After reading it, I have a tremendous respect for a beetle when I see one. Truly amazing facts are presented. For instance, there are more than 350,000 kinds of beetles that have been named. Many more are discovered each year.
Some topics covered are the construction of the beetle, their senses, their habits, even how they grow up. What do they eat? It depends on the type of beetle. Some are plant eaters, some carry on their backs and eat dung, cleaning up the world's grasslands to provide food for their families. There are beetles that live off fungi; some are hunters and scavengers.
These facts don't even begin to cover the abundance of astounding information provided. A lot of care went into the execution of this book. The artwork is beautiful. I do think that the cover design itself could be improved upon. I would like to see more detail on the front of the book, and less detail on the back of it so that the lovely illustrations could have been more imaginatively placed, not just horizontally and vertically.
But that is just nitpicking what is to me the most impressive book for children about natural life since reading the works of Melvin Berger, whom I consider to be the finest author in this genre to date. I believe this book should be in every child's library. It is that important a contribution.
The book arrived in great condition.