Bugged-Out Books
By Troy Corley

Buzzing with delight and promising not to bite, bug-themed picture books provide a colorful, creative view of the largest group of Earth’s animals – insects and their relatives. From fanciful fireflies to picnicking ants, these books use bugs to teach counting concepts, the alphabet, days of the week, color identification and new foods. Some even prompt questions about ethics and personal character, while others offer simple bugged-out fun. Here’s a swarm of illustrated children’s books with a bug’s-eye view:

Recent Titles

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Beetles and Bugs: A Maurice Pledger Nature Trail Book, by Maurice Pledger, Silver Dolphin Press, 2003; ages 4 to 8; $12.95.

The new bug book on the bookshelves, this is a vibrantly detailed book that even toddlers could love. Shaped like a board book with only 16 pages, the book brings unusual bugs to life with touch and feel illustrations. Rub the shiny green-jeweled June beetle and contrast it with the rough exoskeleton of a leatherback beetle. The book is enhanced with another layer of interaction: lift the flaps on the right-hand pages to reveal information about the different bugs – 63 in all.

Buzzy the Bumblebee, by Denise Brennan-Nelson, illustrated by Michael Glenn Monroe, Sleeping Bear Press, 1999; ages 4 to 8; $15.

What’s the buzz? This bumblebee tries to find out when he discovers that science says he should not be able to fly. Instead of a science lesson, Buzzy goes on a personal quest where he discovers how to bee-lieve in himself. The brightly illustrated book promotes self-esteem and the rejection of stereotypes.

Hey, Little Ant, by Phillip M. Hoose and Hannah Hoose, illustrated by Debbie Tilley, Tricycle Press, 1998; ages 4 to 8; $14.95.

A young boy towers over a trembling ant ready to squish him with his sneakered foot. In this simple parable about empathy and the sanctity of life, children are asked to consider that other animals, even the tiniest of them, have feelings too. The ant is portrayed with human qualities – going on a family picnic, reading books to ant children in bed – to make the point. With his peers looming behind him, the boy must decide to squish or not to squish. In the end, the reader is asked, “What do you think that kid should do?” as an opening for parents to discuss the quandary with their children.

Miss Spider’s ABC, by David Kirk, Scholastic, 2000; ages 4 to 8; $16.95.

Miss Spider’s friends are spinning a surprise birthday bug bash for the sociable spider. An alphabetical lineup of bugs handles the party preparations for the affable arachnid. Using jazzy rhyme to introduce the A to Z cast of critter characters, the book has bumblebees blowing balloons, dragonflies decorating and fireflies fandangoing. Using color combinations reminiscent of neon lights, Kirk’s sizzling illustrations jump out much like the guest of honor’s end-of-the-book entrance on the wings of a zebra butterfly.

One Hundred Hungry Ants, by Eleanor J. Pinczes, Bonnie MacKain (illustrator), Houghton Mifflin, 1993; ages 4 to 8; $5.95.

Sure there are plenty of bug-counting books, but can any of them count to 100? This one can! One hundred hungry ants lead the way in “10 rows of 10” and “5 lines of 20,” to help kids understand the math concept of 100. The tiny purple ants tackle the big problem of how to reach the picnic food faster by moving in smaller divisions, thus simplifying how to divide and multiply to 100. It’s all done with upbeat rhymes and simple yet engaging artwork.

Ten Little Ladybugs, by Melanie Gerth, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith, Piggy Toes Press, 2001; infants to preschoolers; $10.95. “Nine little ladybugs skipping on a gate, along came a caterpillar and then there were …” This rhyming countdown from 10 to one board book has an added dimension – raised soft plastic red, yellow and orange ladybugs that slowly disappear as each one is removed by a turn of the page. After each turn, the remaining ladybugs encounter a new animal and all are reunited in the end. Published by an imprint of Intervisual Books, considered to be master manufacturers of pop-up books, this touch-me book is a hit with tactile toddlers.

Tried-and-True Titles

How Many Bugs in a Box?, by David Carter, Little Simon, 1988; ages 4 to 8; $14.95.

Fanciful space bugs, pretty bugs and even tough bugs spring up from under the flaps of bugged-out boxes. The interactive book provides a fun frolic through numbers and diffuses any bug fears with its comical critter creations. This is just one of several bug-themed pop-up books designed by Carter, whose moveable bugs have branched out with more than a dozen books including delightfully buggy titles that celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter and Valentine’s Day.

On Beyond Bugs (Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library), by Tish Rabe, illustrated by Aristides Ruiz, Random House, 1999; ages 4 to 8; $8.99.

The Cat in the Hat is buzzing about bugs in this Seussian-style reader. With two helpers and a butterfly net, the familiar, quirky cat introduces his young audience to a bevy of bugs: from butterflies and bees to fireflies and mosquitoes. Using offbeat rhymes – “Here is a riddle I learned from my mother, how’s a skunk and a ladybug like one another?” – this book offers a swarm of simple bug facts about pollination, smell and communication.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle, Philomel/Penguin, 1969; ages 4 to 8.

This tale of a ravenous caterpillar munching its way through a menu of colorful food to become a beautiful butterfly is classic Carle. Children turn the sturdy die-cut pages to reveal a seven-day account of the caterpillar’s diet: an apple on Monday, two pears on Tuesday, three plums on Wednesday, and so forth. As a result, kids not only learn about the magic of metamorphosis, but learn the days of the week, how to count to seven and color associations. Despite the publisher’s recommended age group, the book is suitable for younger children. For toddlers who wield a heavy hand, the multicolored caterpillar has spawned a board book for little hands as well as an accompanying stuffed toy, a jigsaw puzzle and game.

Troy Corley is the author of the educational travel guide Let’s Go Buggy! The Ultimate Family Guide to Insect Zoos & Butterfly Houses (Corley Publications, 2002).