A Kid’s Guide to Backyard Bugs

Image of A Kid's Guide to Backyard Bugs
Release Date: 
March 7, 2023
Gibbs Smith
Reviewed by: 

“Even with its problems, the book is colorful, handy, and good for any budding gardener, scientist, botanist, or biologist.”

A Kid’s Guide to Backyard Bugs looks like a nice guidebook to take to the garden. The cover is appealing with a colorful tiger moth on it. The end papers are white caterpillars on a green background. Each double-page spread shows the “bug” on the left and has information on the right, including food, life-cycle, habitat and range, bug abode, and fun facts.

The identification pages at the beginning talk about an insect’s characteristics, including three body parts, three sets of legs and exoskeleton. It goes on to explain that spiders have two body parts and eight legs. It talks about eggs, pupae, larvae, and molting. So far, so good.

By the time the reader gets to page 11, however, the confusion begins. A scorpion is being presented as a bug. Under the heading scorpion is a banner that says order Scorpiones, a scientific term that is not explained. It turns out that scorpions are in the same category as spiders, but that is not explained in the book.

The next double-page spread is a praying mantis. This feels more like a bug. Under its heading is the term Mantis religiosa. Then there are 10 more bugs explained, with subheadings on the banners that start with order, suborder, family or nothing except the Latin term. Then the reader comes to centipede, followed by garden slug.

This book is trying to do too many things. It has six animals that don’t fit the author’s own description given for bugs. These include centipedes, millipedes, snails, slugs (Mollusca), and pill bugs (crustaceans) and even earthworms (Lumbricus). Is there a kid alive who would call an earthworm a bug? It turns out that scorpions and ticks are considered arachnids. These two animals could’ve been grouped together with spiders, and the other six could’ve been grouped together as Mollusca and crustaceans. There is no explanation, and they are mixed in with the insects and arachnids.

Putting all that aside, the fact sections have some interesting things to share, such as, “If a walking stick loses a leg or antenna, it’s no big deal. It will grow right back!” The word antenna is bolded, and it is defined in the book’s glossary in the back. Another fun fact is that the black swallowtail butterfly has eyespots on its wings as a protective feature. “It draws a predator’s attention away from the butterfly’s face and body.” On the wolf spider page, this appears: “Female spiders carry their babies on their backs.  When they sense danger, the babies hop off and scatter. When it happens, it looks like a single spider exploded into a hundred tiny ones!”

The tiger moth gets its own page, but then its caterpillar stage gets its own page again as the woolly bear. The accurate art is a plus and helps make the book a usable field guide.

The hickory horned devil page is where the reader might notice paragraphs with subjects alternating between the use of it and they to refer to the bug, sometimes in the same sentence. “Based on its looks, it makes sense you might think they were very dangerous creatures.” This mixing of singular and plural subjects repeats itself over and over throughout the book. Another example is on the Stag Beetle page.  “Although it looks like a dangerous creature, stag beetles are not a threat to humans.” Under Monarch Butterfly, this sentence appears: “There, they live in trees, sometimes returning to the same tree that its ancestors once lived in!”

The book is designed for six-to-eight-year olds. Some of the young readers will go on to learn more about bugs and get interested in science and those words on the banners below the animals’ names.  They will figure out that the author has taken much liberty with the wordbugs” by including animals in the garden that are neither insects nor arachnids, the way she introduced them in the beginning.

As much as this book has to offer in illustrations and information, some of those kids will grow up to resent the misinformation given (an earthworm is a bug) and the classifications that are not explained in the glossary or anywhere.

Maybe future reprints can fix the grammar so that it and they don’t appear in the same sentence. Maybe the title should be changed to A Kid’s Guide to Backyard Bugs and Other Animals.

Even with its problems, the book is colorful, handy, and good for any budding gardener, scientist, botanist, or biologist. Just don’t give it to an English teacher.