Monday, October 13, 2014

Non-fiction Monday: Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle by Cheryl Bardoe

Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle by Cheryl Bardoe. Illustrated by Alan Marks. unpgd. Charlesbridge, March, 2014. 9781580895545. (Finished copy courtesy of publisher for review.)

I'm sure that you're thinking, "Ew! Why should I behold the dung beetle and why is it portrayed in an insect version of Rocky's triumphant pose on the top of the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art?" Apparently, the ancient Egyptians were impressed and immortalized them in jewelry and art. It reminded them of the rising sun and was a symbol of renewal. Scarabs are dung beetles. Who knew?

Readers learn that and so much more about the life cycle of the three types of dung beetle, dwellers, rollers, and tunnelers, in two levels of text. Easier text in larger font appears on the left and more detailed text with harder language and smaller font appears on the right hand pages (mostly). All this info floats on glorious single and double-page spreads featuring nature's industrious janitors doing what they do best with freshly dropped pats of poop. 

Dwellers chow down immediately. Rollers shapes a hunk of poo into balls much larger than themselves, grab themselves a mate and roll off into the sunset. Eventually, they will bury the dung and the female will insert eggs inside. Tunnelers burrow and store the dung inside for their eggs. Dwellers lay their eggs in whatever dung is left.

The watercolor paintings vividly portray the three types of beetles at various stages, including cross-sections of the larval stages and underground scenes. The backgrounds are lovely and a bit impressionistic but the beetles themselves are marvelously detailed. I hope they were portrayed larger than life. There was nothing in the way to show scale except for one bit of text which states, "The largest rollers, which are about the size of tennis balls can roll dung balls up to fifty times heavier than themselves." Yikes.

A page at the end contains helpful advice for finding one's own dung beetles (including a reminder to wash hands) and four fascinating facts. A final page contains a glossary and three books for further reading. Both author and illustrator have web sites.


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