The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

The Beetle Book

The Beetle Book
Written and Illustrated by Steve Jenkins
Published by Houghton Mifflin in 2012
All Ages
Book Review
Line up every kind of plant and animal on earth… and one of every four will be a beetle.” This staggering statistic introduces Steve Jenkins’s picture book survey text about beetles, which is crawling with detailed information about beetles of all kinds. Jenkins once again demonstrates deep knowledge of his child audience by including tidbits sure to fascinate young readers and inspire further inquiry. Who knew that there are Forest Fire beetles with special “heat-sensing spots” to detect forest fires up to 20 miles away and Rove Beetles with toxins in their bodies “more potent than cobra venom”? The content is organized in subcategories, addressing beetles’ life cycle, special adaptations, what they eat, and how they communicate. As usual, Jenkins’s illustrations are as intriguing as his text. Paper collage beetles of seemingly infinite variety are set against a white background. Variation in coloring, shape and size are highlighted through careful juxtaposition and through the use of silhouette images that represent actual measurements. The master of color and texture in his medium, Jenkins has even managed to capture the iridescence that many beetles use as camouflage. Celebrate spring and the reemergence of things that creep and crawl with The Beetle Book, a sure bet to put a bug in kids’ ear to learn more about the beetles among us.
Teaching Invitations
Grades One – Eight
  • Individual Beetle Research. There are many intriguing tidbits found throughout The Beetle Book that are likely to inspire further inquiry into specific beetle types. For example, a student may be intrigued by the descriptor of the Hide Beetle, also known as a Museum Beetle, which notes that “Natural history museums use these beetles to clean animal bones for display.” Horrifying and fascinating, right? Guide students to use internet and text resources (such as the video on the Museum Beetle linked below) to learn more about a beetle of interest to them. Students can contribute to a class made VoiceThread, PowerPoint presentation, or publish individual pieces of writing about the beetle they are studying.
  • Beetles’ Roles in an Ecosystem. Alongside a reading of The Beetle Book, invite students to read Trout are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre, Ladybugs by Gail Gibbons, Poop-Eaters: Dung Beetles in the Food Chain, and Insects in Danger by Kathryn Smithyman and Bobbie Kalman. You could read each of theses titles aloud, or assign the texts as small group reading, depending on the age of your students. Ask students to identify the roles that beetles play within an ecosystem –as pollinators, as part of the decomposition process, as food in the food chain, as predators for invasive insects and plants……. Invite students to compose their own text that specifically highlights the interrelationships among beetles and their environment.
  • The Beetle Book as a Mentor Text. The Beetle Book is a wonderful example of a nonfiction survey text. Read the text closely; first, examining the content and organizational choices made by Steve Jenkins. Next zoom in even closer, examining the descriptive language and word choices of the author. Don’t forget to discuss the illustrations, noting the medium of paper collage, the focus on images of the beetles set against a white background, and the size reference provided by the silhouette images. Use the book as a model for student composition of survey texts.
  • Steve Jenkins Author Study. We have long been serious fans of Steve Jenkins’s wonderful books! Share the body of his work with your students by bringing in as many of his titles as you are able to obtain. Read the books with your students over a period of several weeks, keeping track of your observations about patterns in his content, organization, themes, writing style, and illustrations. Explore the author / illustrator’s website to learn more about his writing processes. Ultimately, beyond enjoying the wonderful content and illustrations in his books, you will want to be sure to capture a list of what you have learned about writing nonfiction from studying Steve Jenkins’s books and give students an opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned in their own writing.
  • Adaptations. Beetles have been alive for 230 million years for a reason! Review the text and make a chart of the many special ways that beetles adapt to their environment for survival. Expand your discussion of adaptation by exploring the ways that other species are uniquely adapted to their habitats, using the categories that you have developed on your chart as a starting point.
  • Making Collage Beetles. Study the two page spread on pages 6 and 7 to identify the make-up of a beetle. Gather together a collection of materials that students can use to assemble a collage beetle image. You might want to consider including items such as pipe cleaners, iridescent papers, clear plastic, and fringe so that students can make beetles that are anatomically accurate as well as aesthetically pleasing. Create a beetle museum display with student-composed museum display cards for each beetle.
  • Beetle Poetry. Gather together a collection of poetry books that feature insects to study as mentor texts for students’ own composition of beetle poems. Use titles such as Paul Felsichman’s Joyful Noise, featuring poems for two voices, Nasty Bugs, a collection edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins that celebrates infamous insects, Leslie Bulion’s Hey There, Stink Bug, which includes a variety of poetic forms, and others (see the resource listing below). Ask students to select a beetle, research information about that beetle’s special characteristics, and then to choose a particular poetic form in which to compose a nonfiction poem about that beetle. Create a class anthology of beetle poems. For additional nonfiction poetry resources see our classroom bookshelf entries for All the Water in the World at and Swirl By Swirl at .
  • Beetle Safari. Go on a beetle safari in your neighborhood. Equip students with digital cameras and clipboards or iPad2’s and take a trip in your community to photograph and record notes about the beetles that you find. Prior to the trip you might seek guidance from a naturalist or a the local extension service (or even a pest control company) to identify the most likely places to locate beetles in your area. Students should take photos and make notes about the beetles that you discover so that they can then use resources to identify the beetles that you have located. You might want to read Bob Barner’s Bug Safari as a mentor text for student compositions about your beetle hunting trip. You might also want to note that Charles Darwin began his career as a naturalist by studying the beetles in his backyard! Steve Voake’s Insect Detective would also serve as a read aloud introduction to this activity.
Grades 4 – 8
Critical Literacy
  • Beetle: Friend or Foe? Beetles are both celebrated and detested by gardeners and farmers. Invite your local extension service (in person or by Skype) to discuss beetles in your area that are beneficial and those that are harmful. The issues are complex. Homeowners often use pesticides to rid themselves of beetles that they consider to be a nuisance. In doing so, they also reduce the numbers of beetles that can be beneficial to their gardening efforts, like ladybugs. To further explore the relationships between beetles and other elements of ecosystems, read the brief article “Fighting Invasive Trees with Invasive Beetles” linked below from the National Geographic Kids website and then watch the National Geographic Kids Cartoon linked below titled Resident Weevil. Ask students to do some further research with the goal of creating a podcast in the style of a radio news story discussing beetles, both beneficial and potentially harmful, that can be found in your area. (Alexandra Siy’s Bug Shots, The Good, the Bad, and the Bugly listed in the books section below could also serve as a resource in this exploration.)
Further Explorations
Online Resources
Steve Jenkins
American Museum of Natural History: Dung Beetles: Help From the Ground Up
The Coleopterists Society
YouTube: Flesh Eating Beetles at the Smithsonian’s Osteology Laboratory
Natural History Museum UK: Flesh-eating Beetle Cam
Smithsonian: National Zoological Park: Hercules Beetles
National Geographic Kids: Creature Feature: Dung Beetles
National Geographic Kids: Fighting Invasive Trees with Invasive Beetles
National Geographic Kids Video: Resident Weevil
U.S. Department of Agriculture: Asian Long-Horned Beetle
City of Boston: Traps Target Invasive Beetles
Oregon State University Extension Service: Bank of Beneficial Beetles
Barner, B. (2004). Bug safari. New York: Holiday House.
  • A young boy narrates his adventures and sights as he takes a backyard “safari” following a trail of ants, ultimately arriving at a picnic lunch set up by his mother. Facts about the insects he observes are included.
Bulion, L. (2006). Hey there, stink bug! Ill. by L. Evans. Cambridge, MA: Charlesbridge.
  • A collection of 19 insect poems, each in a different poetic form. Notes about the poetic forms are included. Great material for a discussion of how the poetic form matches the content of the poem.
Fleischman, P. (1988). Joyful noise: Poems for two voices. Ill. by E. Beddows. New York: HarperTrophy.
  • Fabulous material for students performance, this Newbery winning collection of poems for two voices highlights insect behavior of all varieties.
Fleming, D. (2007). Beetle Bop. New York: Harcourt
  • A lively rhyming text describes the behaviors of beetles of all sorts in this picture book for young readers, featuring the author/ illustrator’s signature paper pulp paintings.
Gibbons, G. (2012). Ladybugs. New York: Holiday House.
  • An illustrated informational picture book about the many species of ladybugs around the world, their behaviors, and their life cycle.
Harrison, D.L. (2007). Bugs: Poems about creeping things. Ill. by R. Shepperson. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong.
  • This collection of forty short poems about bugs and other crawling creatures blends fiction and nonfiction content.
Hopkins, L.B. (2012). Nasty bugs. Ill. by W. Terry. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.
  • This illustrated anthology of sixteen poems describes the nefarious actions of various insects, including beetles. Back matter includes additional information about the insects featured in the poems.
Lasky, K. (2009). One beetle too many: The extraordinary adventures of Charles Darwin. Ill. by M. Trueman. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
  • A picture book biography of Charles Darwin who, as a child, was fascinated by beetle behavior.
Pallotta, J. (2004). The beetle alphabet book. Ill. by D. Biedrzycki. Cambridge, MA: Charlesbridge.
  • This nonfiction picture book features a different beetle for every letter of the alphabet. Invite your students to make their own beetle alphabet book as away to share their research on different beetle types.
Prischmann, D.A. (2008). Poop-eaters: Dung Beetles in the food chain. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Press.
  • This title explores the important role that the ever-fascinating Dung Beetle plays in an ecosystem.
Sidman, J. (2005). Song of the water boatman and other pond poems. Ill. by B.Prange. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • This collection by master nonfiction poet Joyce Sidman features pond life, including a poem about the Diving Beetle. This title was recognized with a Caldecott honor award.
Siy, A. & Kunkel, D. (2012). Bug shots: The good, the bad, and the bugly. New York: Holiday House.
  • Dennis Kunkel’s amazing photomicorgraphs accompany a text exploring the positive and negative roles played by the bus around us.
Smithyman, K. & Kalman. B. (2006). Insects in danger. New York: Crabtree Publishers.
  • Part of the World of Insects series, this title focuses on endangered insects, including species of beetles.
Stewart, M. (2003). Maggots, grubs, and more: The secret lives of young insects. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press.
  • An exploration of the life cycles of many different kinds of insects, including beetles.
Voake, S. (2010). Insect detective. Ill. C. Voake. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
  • A picture book invitation to explore the insect life in your own neighborhood, includes suggestions of where to look to locate insects.

Erika Thulin Dawes About Erika Thulin Dawes

Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.