John Muir Publications


The Titles

Extremely Weird Insects, by Sarah Lovett
Extremely Weird Spiders, by Sarah Lovett
The Butterfly Book A Kid’s guide to Attracting, Raising and Keeping butterflies, by Kersten Hamilton

The Reviews

Extremely Weird Insects

by Sarah Lovett

ISBN = 1 56261 283 2
Price = £5.95
Published = 1992 2nd Ed. 1996
Review written = 30/april/1998
32 A4 pages

Personally I try to promote insects as beautiful and amazing so calling a book “Extremely Weird Insects” was not getting off to a good start, though I appreciate the selling power of the title there are two many forces telling kids that bugs are weird already. However I could easily forgive the title if the book was amazing, but it is not, it contains a few nice photos and some varyingly accurate text. It is large format and colourful, each of the 15 insects gets 2 pages to itself and there appear to be some children’s drawings inset to several of the pages. Value for money? I suppose so but not excellent.

The insects chosen are not in fact particularly weird except to the minds of the uneducated, all a reasonable common with straight-forward life cycles. The design is not stunning, and in some places is a little confusing. An inset on the wings and halteres of flies is on page 10, a page otherwise devoted to Fulgora servillei a bug with 4 wings not 2, and not on page 16 with the other facts about Chrysops sp. the Horsefly, a real 2 winged fly. Another inset, this time about the Bombardier Beetle is on the page about Stink Bugs which are not beetles at all, this is bound to lead to confusion in the minds of the children who read it. On page 3 the Taxon Mammalia is shown as a Phylum when it is in fact only a Class an obvious example of over-rating the importance of vertebrates in the human mind. On page 12 it states that the word ‘Nymph’ is also used to mean ‘Pupa’. What can I say, in a home for the mentally delinquent it may be. The average 6 year old knows better than that. On page 24 it states that Stick and Leaf Insects commonly reproduce by parthenogenesis. Not true. A few species do but the majority have males and females and normally reproduce sexually.

All in all, though I was not very impressed, this book is about par-for-the-course for books about bugs for kids, publishers generally just do not seem to bother paying for the expertise that brings accuracy.

Extremely Weird Spiders

by Sarah Lovett

ISBN = 1 56261 289 1
Price = £5.95
Published = 1991 2nd Ed. 1996
Review written = 30/April/1998
32 A4 pages

Like its sister book on insects this is a snapshot of about 14 species, mostly consisting of images with a small amount of text, a balance adjusted to the very young, or beginning reader. Personally I found the book disappointing. I will admit that I am not a 5 year old, and many 5 year-olds will probably love it despite its inadequacies. There are some pretty weird spiders in the world but none of them make a showing in this book. Given that the size of the book limits your options to fourteen cameos, and that there are 85 families of spiders in the world it seems inexcusable that some families should be covered more than once. The Theraphosidae feature 3 times though they are not a large family, while Salticidae and Thomisidae feature twice each. Beauties like the Deinopidae, Sparassidae and Scytodidae to name but a few do not feature at all. An indication I suspect of how little the author actually knows about spiders. As, I suspect, is the tale on page 20 of spiders using their silk to pull off their own legs if they are damaged and eating them. Though William Baerg reports that his female trantulas would eat a damaged leg once it had fallen off naturally pulling it off before then woud I think risk dangerous loss of body fluids, I would like to know the source for this claim before believing it. If it happens it must be extremely rare and probably does not warrant a place in a book such as this.

Having said all that the book is large and colorful, and is generally less factually inaccurate than its sister volume. It will probably be loved by kids and for a mere 6 dollars is probably better value for money than alcohol or cigarettes.

The Butterfly Book

A Kid’s guide to Attracting, Raising and Keeping butterflies, by Kersten Hamilton

ISBN = 1 56261 309 X
Price = £7.95 US £11.25 Ca
Published = 1997
Review written = 1/May/1998
40 pages

Butterflies are the most obvious and attractive of insects and it is a real fact that many of our greatest entomologists started out as kids with a fascination for these endearing creatures. Starting with a gentle introduction to Butterflies and their life cycles this book leads you through a series of well explained and illustrated exercises teaching you how to bring butterflies into your garden, and if you are so inclined your bedroom. This book is about dealing with living butterflies so if you are looking for information on making a set collection this book will not help you with techniques but it will help you understand butterflies.

Though I think this book is excellent, and highly recommend it to anyone as a reviewer, I am forced to play ‘Devil’s Advocate’. To this extent there are a couple of additions I would like to see in the next edition. The first of these is that it is important to always release butterflies near where you caught them or their parents etc.. Therefore it is not advisable to collect livestock while you are on holidays if you plan to release the progeny. This is to protect the genetic diversity of different populations, which would become mixed if you took stock from Oregan and released their offspring in Alabama. The second is that it is easy to collect dozens, or even hundreds of eggs or young larvae, it is very difficult to feed hundreds or even dozens of last instar lavae. I would therefore advise starting with 5 to 10 larvae and maybe attempting more in following years when you have more idea of the work involved.

This book is aimed at a North American audience, and though the sections on rearing and general biology apply to all butterflies, the particular species apply to the USA. Apart from supplying instructions on rearing and attracting butterflies this book also supplies identification tips on 21 common species which are found across most of the USA. The book is attractively designed and well written and I expect it will be a great success with all those fostering a growing but young interest in the wonderful world of butterflies, both children and adults.

Highly Recommended

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