Monday, September 03, 2012

Nonfiction Monday - Bugs By the Numbers

BUGS BY THE NUMBERS, written and illustrated by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss, is a book I have a love/hate relationship with. Let's start with the stuff the "bugs" me (no pun intended) so that I can get on to the many things I love about it. Please bear with me while I put on my scientist hat.

First, I really dislike the use of the word bugs as a broad classification for arthropods and other "creepy crawly" creatures. Here's a rundown on the classification system and where these organisms are found.
Domain - Eukarya / Kingdom - Animal / Phylum - Arthropod

Arthropods are composed of five classes of organisms--arachnids, insects, crustaceans, centipedes, and millipedes. Now, hemiptera is an order of insects known as "true bugs." Included here are stink bugs, cicadas, aphids, water striders and more. 

The animals highlighted in this book are ant, butterfly, dobsonfly, fly, ladybug, spider, centipede, grasshopper, walking stick, leaf insect, scorpion, dragonfly, bee, mosquito, firefly, flea, cockroach, praying mantis, tick, bed bug, beetle, termite, and earthworm. All come from the phylum arthropod with the exception of the earthworm. This raises my second concern regarding the use of the word bug. Annelids are a phylum in the animal kingdom consisting largely of segmented worms. Earthworms fall within this phylum. They are not bugs in any sense of the word. I will admit that the term "worm" is used rather loosely and  is sometimes used to refer to certain forms of insect larvae (think mealworms, glowworms, inchworms, etc.). The authors do explain in the fine print on the earthworm page that all bugs evolved from earthworms. Even so, I find their inclusion here troubling. It's the one page that I skip while sharing this book with students.  

Now that I've had may little science rant, let's talk about the really amazing features of this book. When I read this book I begin by reading a bit from the jacket flap, as two brief rhyming stanzas do a terrific job introducing the contents of the book.
Each bug on these pages
Looks unique and rare,
Not like the insects
You see everywhere.

They're made up of numbers:
The ones that you count.
'Cause when you think bugs,
You think BIG amounts.
When you open the pages you'll find 23 different animals constructed from numbers of varying sizes and font faces. Many of the pages have fun flaps and flip-out sections. On every page there is a wealth of information on the animal, always highlighting in some way the numbers used to create it. For example, the ant is composed of 1s, 2s, and 3s, with each number comprising a different body segment (1s-head, 2s-thorax, 3s-abdomen). A fold-out flap of a leaf includes the number 3 and the fact that like other insects, ants have 3 body parts. When the flap is lifted up, 50 ants form the number 50. Beneath the number is this fact. "Ants can lift 50 times their own body weight. If you could do that, you'd be able to life a car." The fold-out flap on the bottom of the page looks like a pile of dirt. When it is folded down, a picture of ant tunnels beneath the ground is accompanied by the fact "An ant colony can reach 20 feet below ground. " In addition to these numbers and facts, readers learn that ants have 2 stomachs, that worker ants can take 250 short naps a day, and that queen ants can live for 30 years. As you can see, this one double-page spread is jam-packed with information. Nineteen of the animals in the book receive such extended treatment, with only four (dobsonfly, fly, tick and bedbug) garnering only a single page each.

My favorite page is the beetle page. While the graphic highlights the rhinocerous beetle, the bits of information along the bottom of the page describe a few standouts in the beetle family. Did you know that the fastest-running insect is the Australian Tiger Beetle? Or the that Goliath Beetle is the world's heaviest insect? Or that there are over 300,000 species of beetles on the planet? 

Want to know or see more? Check out the BUGS BY THE NUMBERS photostream on Flickr.

It's clear from the outset that Werner and Forss anticipated the kind of concern I raised about the use of the word bug. Here's an excerpt from the introductory page.
Now some smarties might notice
As the go through and look,
Not every creature is a bug in this book. 
Not all critters that fly or crawl  on the ground
Are technically bugs, but we both have found
Mos folks call them bugs, and since they do,
We figured, why not? We'd call them "bugs" too. 
Real bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs
And spiders are neither (oh, please don't say, "Ugh").
So yes, the authors beg a bit of latitude in the beginning. I do think that if you use this in any kind of science context this needs to be explained and perhaps examined in a bit more depth.

Despite my concerns regarding the use of the word bug and the inclusion of the earthworm, I find the bulk of the book to be gorgeously constructed, highly engaging, and chock full of interesting tidbits. The kids in your classroom will be fighting over this one, so you may want more than one copy. RECOMMENDED.

Author/Illustrator:  Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: April 2011
Pages: 56 pages
Grades: 3-8
ISBN: 978-1609050610
Source of Book: Copy borrowed from my local public library

P.S. - Did I mention that their new book, Alphasaurs and Other Prehistoric Types, comes out in October?

This review was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to The Swimmer Writer and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

1 comment:

  1. WOW! Truly amazing. My eyes were bugging out at the stunning graphics.