A Garden of Opposites. By Nancy Davis. Schwartz & Wade. $10.99.
The Bug Book and Bug Bottle. By Hugh Danks, Ph.D. Workman. $13.95.
A thoroughly charming way to teach young children the concept of words with opposite meanings, A Garden of Opposites uses familiar outdoor sights, plus drawings somewhat reminiscent of the work of Lois Ehlert, to showcase differences. “Short,” for example, is a squiggly bug that looks a bit like a slug, except with tiny legs, while “long” is a snake – same basic shape. “Big” is a huge green beetle, “small” a six-spotted ladybug. “Dull” is a trowel, “sharp” a pair of garden shears. Nancy Davis gives kids more chances to think things through than do many authors of “opposites” books. At the end, for example, a little girl stands in a garden, holding a jar that contains butterflies, and the word is “in.” It takes a moment’s thought to realize that the word refers to the insects in the jar. Fold out the full-page flap – the only flap in the book – and the word becomes “out,” as the girl releases the butterflies and runs happily through the grass as they fly away. That foldout also contains a challenge to find other opposites – a nice way to end a book that teaches an important concept and then gives young readers a chance to find out for themselves whether they have understood it.
And speaking of bugs and gardens, The Bug Book and Bug Bottle is a delightful hands-on exploration tool for any budding entomologist (author Hugh Danks is one) – or just for kids who want a closer look at the innumerable insects that live all around us. The kit – packed in a sturdy, nicely designed, cylindrical plastic bottle – includes the bottle itself, a magnifying glass, a 110-page book with information on 47 common insects and suggestions on how to catch and care for them, a bug identification chart, and a small journal for taking notes on these denizens of the backyard. Well illustrated and packed with information, the kit explains exactly what bugs are and discusses their extreme importance to the environment. The instructions in the book are straightforward and easy to follow: “”Make the bug feel at home. Create a miniature habitat… Any bug found feeding on a leaf should be given the same kind of leaf.” There are, of course, admonitions to avoid bugs that can hurt you – there is a special symbol to show which ones those are. And there is interesting information on every insect mentioned. For example, “the leafhopper uses a sucking tube to feed on sugary plant juices, which pass rapidly through its body. The bug converts the sugar it doesn’t use into a sweet liquid called honeydew; it drops this liquid onto plant leaves, where ants and other insects eat it.” Danks shows kids where to find bugs beyond their yard, too: in fields, woods, at a pond and elsewhere. The identification chart is easy to carry (it folds neatly into the bottle or fits in a pocket), and its full-color pictures make it simple to use. The “bug journal,” with spaces to write about bugs and draw pictures of them, is a nice touch. And the bottle even has a measuring tool on top, in both inches and centimeters. The Bug Book and Bug Bottle is a clever, scientifically accurate and easy-to-use introductory guide to a large number of fascinating creatures – and a great thing to give children who are trying to figure out what to do outside during the spring and summer.