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Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Beetle Book, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Thomas Allen & Son, 2012. $18.99 ages 6 and up

"Most beetles are vegetarians. Beetles of one kind or another will consume every part of a plant, including leaves, bark, roots, sap, and flower pollen. Other beetles eat fungus or dung."
Without dung beetles, the world's grasslands would soon be buried in animal droppings."

No matter how gross a topic seems to me, Steve Jenkins manages to make it unbelievably intriguing. I come away from reading his books in awe not only of his artistic talents, but also his faultless research and his ability to share the minutiae of what he has learned with an audience that may not even think itself, for instance. And while this truly amazing book has not lured me into the life of a coleopterist, it has certainly upped my already deserved admiration for this man. 

It is a book that will attract the reader's attention even as they are squirming. Steve Jenkins points to the importance of beetles in our world, telling his audience that of all living plants and animals on this earth, 'one in every four is a beetle'. Yech!!!

It's almost impossible to get past the beauty of the endpapers. They astound with color and seem almost liquid as you encounter them before turning a single page. Then, Steve Jenkins makes it his mission to inform his readers about this particular species...about their color, variations, body parts, senses, growth, food, sounds, protection and how they move.On every page the captions and labels clearly name and define each.

He uses his amazing cut-paper collage artwork to give his readers perspective and a sense of awe at the many attributes and adaptations of a bevy of beautiful beetles...well, I'm sure there are many who will think them quite remarkable in structure and color.

He defines them:

"What is a beetle?
Beetles are insects. Like all insects,
they have a pair of antennae, six
legs, and three main body parts."

As he continues to describe each featured insect, he uses comparisons in size to help us understand how big, or how small, they actually are. He talks about each 'beetle bit' by taking one beetle apart and clearly showing each of its parts...all in collage, of course. (No beetles were harmed in the creation of this book, I am sure!).

There is so much to see and to ponder as readers turn from one page to the next. Some of the beetles are much larger than their real size to show their many distinctive characteristics. Always aware of this, Mr. Jenkins adds silhouettes of each to show their actual size. It is very appealing and will certainly hold the attention of those children who share it. There will be great appreciation shown for the depth of the research and the intricate rendering of those beetles being described so carefully:

"The bombardier beetle has one of the most impressive beetle defenses. It squirts a blinding, boiling hot liquid into the face of an attacker. The chemical explosion powering this spray makes a loud popping sound."

The design is outstanding, as usual. The information is intriguing. The depth of color and attention to the details in every single body is what we have come to expect of Steve Jenkins. Still, he surprises and has made me a reluctant admirer of the beauty and ingenuity of the species. I love the elegance of the type used for the text, the white backdrop that allows careful consideration of every single illustration and his wonder at the world he lives in.

Don't miss the back cover!

This is a winner...are you listening, Caldecott committee? Bravo, Steve Jenkins!

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