Denise Fleming's latest picture book is a vivid adventure in the world of the largest insect order. Beetle Bop (Harcourt, $16, ages 3 to 7) portrays its subjects so vibrantly that they nearly zip off the page as they buzz, creep and dive through their habitats, from forest floor to sidewalk crack to placid pond. They and other animals (a red salamander, a skunk, a predatory frog) are accompanied by wonderful rhyming, action-filled text. Fleming successfully avoids the pitfalls of much writing for young children: Her words are rhythmic but not singsongy, exuberant but not cute. It's a pleasure to read these lines aloud.
Although Fleming takes some liberties with her depictions of beetles, readers will recognize several—the lightning bugs, for instance, whose glowing posteriors look a lot like the nearby lightbulb against which less easily identifiable beetles crash. Other highlights include bark beetles on a tree trunk and a gray click beetle engaged in a fantastic flip. I was even glad to see striped cucumber beetles—cursed pests that eat the plants in my garden—pictured, fittingly enough, on a nodding sunflower.
Recognizing that all these flitting, diving and fluttering insects are beetles will help children grasp the idea that animals sharing key characteristics are classified together, even though they may not look at all alike. I wish the book included a list of names of the insects on which the illustrations are based. Still, there's some help here for curious readers. A fact page notes, in simple language, what makes a beetle a beetle. The gorgeous illustrations and equally fine text of Beetle Bop leave no doubt about one thing: Beetles rock!—Anna Lena Phillips