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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Insect World

If you could see the world through a cat’s eyes, would your opinion of insects change? My cats and I were enjoying watching some ants outside. Periodically the cats would pounce on them, but most of the time they simply sat watching them crawl. Not so with flies. Foolish fly that dares too near my felines. R.I.P., flies.

So, what did Milia and KitKat think of Lerner’s new series Insect World? I have to admit they just were not pouncing on those insects. Flat nonmoving images don’t excite my felines. Fortunately your students are not cats and they will pounce on these titles. Sandra Markle has found hooks for kids with Stick Insects, Hornets, and Diving Beetles plus locusts, luna moths, mosquitoes, termites and praying mantises.

Intended for grades 4-8 and written at a high fourth grade level, these are going to be wildly popular with middle school science teachers in addition to the students. There is a great deal of information and these insects pull you into their Class quickly.

The cover I couldn’t resist was Diving Beetles: Underwater Insect Predators. EwYew! Is that bug biting that fish? How can a bug catch a fish? It gets better. There are two diagrams of a diving beetle’s body – one outside and one of the inside in each title. Do you know what shape this insect’s heart is? Or that females have ridges on their elytra? Did you know that diving beetle larvae are sometimes called water tigers? 

Well, I do, now. I couldn’t resist the first ten pages and had to share this with you. Imagine your students pouring over the text as well as the illustrations. They’ll be sharing information with complete strangers.

I particularly liked how Sandra Markle forces you to read all the end material to learn some of the facts that other texts throw at you first. She has integrated the facts of diving beetle’s lives with her main focus on their being predators in the main text. Other facts like whether they are helpful or harmful, how many kinds there are, size…. All of that is at the end because it wasn’t essential to the focus. 

Looking at the section of additional sources in the back, you soon realize there is nothing else on the market like this. There may be 350,000 different kinds of beetles and more than 5,000 different kinds of diving beetles worldwide, but I couldn’t find another diving beetle book that was current. 

There are two activities in the back – "Adopt a pond" and "Trap air the way a diving beetle does."  These were interesting, but I’m a picky elementary librarian and I wish these were expanded more with illustrations to prompt the students to do them. Middle school students will read these and either a) immediately grasp the point or b) make a decision to try the activity or not. Considering who it’s marketed to, it’s a fit. If you have a strong insect research group in 4th grade, be sure to include these for students who want "just a little bit more" information. 

On to Stick Insects: Masters of Defense. Before, I never cared whether an insect went through complete or incomplete metamorphisis. Now I understand. You’ll just have to read it yourself to see why. I will share with you that I had no idea just how many ways an animal that isn’t an attacker can defend itself. Beyond shape and color, stick insects have so many ways to trick predators. Did you know one Asian leaf insect has parts that sway with the breezes? It is so successful at camoflage that sometimes other leaf insects bite each other mistakenly. Just wait til you see the picture of the Goliath stick insect throwing it’s droppings far away to fool predators. Better monitor those hall bathrooms in case they get any ideas!

 As a child, bees were bad (because I was allergic to them) but good for honey. Wasps were just another flying insect. Hornets, though, were the monsters that we all feared, not the Hornets: Incredible Insect Architects that Sandra Markle writes about. Discovery of a hornet’s nest was excitement for everyone. You could tell by looking at the dump pile on the ground that above you was a hornet’s nest. Every ole-timer in town had a suggestion with what to do with hornets’ nests. None of them revolved around considering hornets to be incredible insect architects. There is a reason for the phrase stirring up a hornet’s nest.

Fortunately I’m a big girl now so I can read about these European insects that have expanded as far as the Dakotas. I can balance the remarkableness of the queen hornet creating the nest material herself by wood fibers, saliva, and sometimes sand to create a paper-like substance that is a perfect hexagon every time. I can understand now why the nest actually makes so much noise when the hornets are young. 

I’m a big girl now. I can decide that I still don’t like hornets and I don’t want any of them living near me. Despite all the information, I prefer to monitor these "dramatic architectural achievements" in books and not in real life. Have you ever been stung by a hornet? Their sting is very painful. I’m going to leave the study of hornets to you brave people. Unfortunately, I will still have to buy this book because there isn’t anything else out there just about hornets. Fortunately, I learned that hornets only use their nest for one year so I can gleefully destroy old hornet’s nests I find. Oh, no! If I do that, will they come back and rebuild? Sandra, I need more information.

Sandra, maybe some bugs don’t deserve their own book. Even National Geographic News did a feature with video on Hornets from Hell.Perhaps those of us who don’t want to share our environment with hornets are the wise ones. Is there a way to force them to de-migrate home and away from my prairie hometown before I go visit this summer? 

As popular as this series will be, I suppose you’ll be writing about arthropods next – ticks, centipedes, spiders. I’ll be expecting to see those nasty ticks showing up next year. Could I suggest "chiggers" for the Insect World series? Those nasty things are despised by campers as much as I hate hornets. Plus I don’t believe I have ever seen a book on chiggers before.  I don’t want to provoke the attack of a swarm of spiteful enemies or spirited critics but I really wish I’d received the Luna Moth book or the locust book instead. Cicadas and locusts, those I understand. Since I know I’ll have bad dreams about hornets, I’d better plan for my annual hornet hunting trek tomorrow to make sure I’m safe. What was that word for fear of hornets?