FILED IN: Book Reviews

The Bug Bottle and The Bug Book By Hugh Danks, Ph.D., illustrated by Chet Phillips; Bugs Fandex Family Field Guide By Sarah Goodman

The Bug Bottle and The Bug BookThe Bug Bottle and The Bug Book
By Hugh Danks, Ph.D.; illustrated by Chet Phillips
Workman, $13.95
112 pp.; ISBN-13: 978-0761148890

Bugs Fandex Family Field GuideBugs Fandex Family Field Guide
By Sarah Goodman
Workman, $10.95
50 pp.; ISBN-13: 978-0761154143

Review by Amy Brozio-Andrews

While they don’t come together as a package, The Bug Bottle and The Bug Book and the Bugs Fandex Family Field Guide certainly could — combined they offer hours of educational entertainment for kids who love to get outside and explore, especially with the long days of summer vacation on the horizon.

The Bug Bottle and The Bug Book is a neat, compact little kit with everything a kid needs for some quality bug hunting and study. The small plastic box is aboit six inches square, with a lid that has air holes and ruler markings. Inside, young explorers can find a small magnifying glass, a wall chart where they can check off their finds, a journal for recording their discoveries and observations, and 110-page book that identifies dozens of common bugs, where to find them, how to catch them, how to keep them alive while in your care (letting them go after a day or two, of course), and bug-based acitivities so that kids can learn from their finds.

Hugh Danks’s book covers what specific bugs look like, what they eat, and additional information about them, like how and where they live. For example, one surprising fact is that most fireflies subsist on whatever they ate as larvae and don’t eat much, if at all, as adults. The bug listings are accompanied by detailed, full-color drawings of the bugs and where warranted, warning labels not to touch certain new friends. Danks has some great ideas for collecting bugs for observation, things that kids can implement themselves, and simple activities designed for observation and release. Danks’ writing is really positive and kid-centered, scientific yet still accessible to elementary school-aged kids (the box says ages 8 and up). The biggest appeal for kids just might be how empowering it is for them — there aren’t any complicated projects or procedures that require getting a grown up involved unless you want to. This is something that is kid-sized and that they really can do by themselves or that can be enjoyed as a family activity.

A good accompaniement to The Bug Bottle and The Bug Book is Sarah Goodman’s Bugs Fandex Family Field Guide. Each card features a full-color and very up-close photograph of a bug where kids can get a really good look at it (Lovely… a house fly as big as my hand!). The cards tell where each bug is found, the scientific name (if you want to go look up more about it) and an informative paragraph about the life cycle, habits, and interesting facts that continues on the back, wrapping up with a "field notes" section with tips for bug identification.

While some of the bugs found in the guide are bugs that are easy to find, like flies, ladybugs, and monarch butterflies, some of these bugs aren’t found in North America, like the leaf insect (South Asia and the South Pacific only). Goodman’s guide isn’t really about the hands-on learning in the same way as The Bug Bottle and Book but it’s a good reference with a lot of detailed information about a variety of bugs, both common and uncommon. The photography is outstanding and allow for close examination of bugs that you might not really want your kids getting that close to, like a roach or a wasp. The cards also include smaller photos on the back, like a detailed shot of a centipede’s legs.

While the Fandex concept is a great one, all those cards joined at the corner so that you can separate out the one that you’re looking at, the bug-shaped die cut cards follow the shape of each bug — here, it makes putting it all back together a bit of a fumble as the irregularly-shaped cards get caught on each other. Otherwise, the compact design is great for exploring out in the yard or packing for something to do on a long summer car trip (it’s slim enough to pack into a large purse or backpack — pull it out as a surprise when you’re standing on a long line somewhere).

Even kids who might not like bugs (my own little anti-bug brigade couldn’t get enough of the kit and guides) might find themselves curious enough to take a look and take a walk outside with these two colorful and engaging books.