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Despite the BBC news sites prediction of a beautiful sunny day, it's pouring rain outside and all the creepy crawlies have run for cover. Since we can't go outdorrs to hunt bugs, we've been forced to find them insdie and what better place than in this absolutely beautiful book by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss, Bugs by Number. I also own two alphabet books by the same authors/ illustrators, and have ordered a fourth book, so it is obvious we enjoy their unique take on illustration.
It is a bit difficult to tell by the illustration above, but if you click the icon to go to Amazon you will be able to see that each insect in made up only of numbers. In most cases, it is the same number, over and over again, but a few through in a couple of extras, such as the Praying Mantis on the cover. The main picture is made of the number 180, the number of degrees the insect can turn its head. This picture also has 1-5 on the Mantis' head and a brief not telling us that five is the number of eyes this animal possesses. The numbers are repeated in different sizes, much as square dots were once used to make computer pictures, giving an unusual but very recognisable illustration.
Since this is a number book, it would be easy to assume that it is a counting book. It isn't. I aware of this before buying, but I do wish it has been presented as counting book - it would have been brilliant. On the plus side, there are an incredible amount of things a child can count, and this certainly makes a welcome change from the average counting book. It also does expose a child to a lot of numbers in a fun and engaging manner. There are hundreds if not thousands of books that teach a child to count to ten or twenty, but there is nothing else quite like this.
Another unique feature of this book is the is the fact that it includes far larger numbers than the average counting book. The highest number in this page is 1,750,000 which is the number of earthworms meant to be in one acre of fertile land.
I both loved and hated the termite page, which features the number 2,500. Instead of the usual design in which the insect is made of tiny numbers, in this case we have a very large, two page spread in which the number 2,500 is made up of what I presume to be 2,500 termites. Sadly the book does not tell us if this is the case or not, and I have no intention of counting every one, but with a count of 25 for a single square inch. Assuming my maths are correct, two 11.5 x 8.75 pages would yield just over 200 square inches. There are some white areas and cut out bits, but this is still more than adequate for 2,500 insects. I love the fact that this gives a child an idea what the number 2,500 looks like. I doubt very many children below school age have any concept of numbers over 100, and I love books where you can see larger numbers in illustrations.
The termite page is the one page in which I take issue with the facts though. The author tells us that Termites live in large groups which can have more than 2,500 members. This is true - but they have can have quite a bit more with a queen termite laying up to 3,000 eggs a day and colonies numbering into the millions in many cases. My problem is that the author states 2,500 termites would weigh more than a ton. With a ton being 2,000 pounds the only way this figure could be true is if each termite weighed 8/10 of a pound. Those sound like some very large termites. I rather suspect this is a misprint, and as such I have knocked one star off my rating. A bit harsh, yes, but this seems a major misprint that should have been caught and showing a child a picture of 2,500 little tiny insects and informing that this number would weigh a ton seems very misleading. I can easily believe the number of termites in a mound might weigh a ton. I just think the number is more likely to be 2,500,000 than 2,500.
My issue with the termite facts aside, this is an excellent book. It has beautiful and unique illustrations, it exposes children to a wide variety of numbers, and it has all sorts of fun facts on insects and other creepy crawlies. Of course some scientists do take issue with calling things like worms bugs. Some books now insist on calling them mini beasts as the word bug really only refers to insects of the order hemiptera, but try telling that to a four year old. Until a better word is created, I use the term bug myself to include various arthropods and small invertebrates such as worms and slugs. This book is primarily about insects, but it does include spiders, worms, centipedes and scorpions. I like that the fact the non insects are included as so many books do stick to insects only.
There are enough facts to make this book interesting to a wide variety of ages. Both my eight year old and my four old enjoyed this, and I found many of the facts very interesting myself. Of course I am not expert enough to know if there are any other errors. I would also note that this is an American book so it gives American temperatures. The book mentions that a cockroach can survive freezing at 32 degrees and my son said 32 degrees was really hot. I had to explain that it was 32 Fahrenheit which would be only 0 degrees here. The most interesting fact to me, if true is the claim that mosquitoes have been responsible for 50% of all human deaths since the stone age.
This book also has all sorts of flaps to open up, which my youngest particularly enjoyed this feature. His favourites were a flap you pull down to reveal the inside of ant colony, and a large leaf like flap with a cocoon that opens to reveal a butterfly. The boys also enjoyed a life sized illustration of the largest stick insect ever found at 22" long and the Praying Mantis picture.
Overall this is an excellent book. It can keep a child occupied for ages and helps them learn science, literacy and maths all while having fun. I do think the termite weight is a huge mistake, but it wouldn't put me off buying the book. It is £9.23 new and delivered from Amazon, but I do feel it is worth the price if you have a child who loves bugs.