Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Early this morning a flash of movement had me looking up and glancing out the picture window.  I saw her flying around as if trying to get my attention.  Was the lady trying to send me a message?  Light glowed through her tiny transparent wings. Before I could get close to her, she was gone.

The lilacs have blossomed and faded, the peonies are ready to burst forth in all their sweet-smelling glory and the lily shoots are about three inches tall.  Regardless of all this floral fanfare, she was the first ladybug of the spring to present herself to me.  In A Beetle Is Shy (Chronicle Books, April 5, 2016) the newest collaboration between author Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrator Sylvia Long, the Convergent Lady Beetle is one of twenty-eight featured insects.

A beetle is shy.
It begins its life inside an egg...
soft and wingless, tender,
protected by the roots of trees
and the undersides of leaves.

From this quiet beginning the egg changes into a larva four different times, each one larger.  It progresses to the pupa and then to the beautiful beetle.  The variety of color found in beetles likens them to a kaleidoscope if they were gathered together.

If you are exploring in one of several South American locations, you might encounter a beetle as large as your hand. *gulp* Coming up to North America you would need assistance to see one of the smallest known beetles.  It's only three one hundredths of an inch in size.

Beetles are specially equipped to travel, perform their jobs and search for food.  Their legs and toes are designed for a certain purpose; flattened or long and slender or ready for springing up in a leap.  Communication methods rely on smell, sound and light.

To protect themselves beetles can blend in with their surroundings, shoot out harmful substances, and pretend to be something they are not.  They are known to assist in making plants healthier or causing them irreparable damage.

Beetles shared the planet with dinosaurs and have wings acting as shields for their inner flight wings and abdomens.  They are survivors.  They remind us to be thankful for the exquisite creatures sharing this planet with us.

In this title, as in the five previous books, Dianna Hutts Aston showcases a series of statements about beetles.  Some are fairly simple,

A beetle is kaleidoscopic.

Others are a little more complex,

A beetle is helpful...
or harmful.

Following each observation are one or more paragraphs in support of her initial sentence.  In this way we are informed but enveloped in her poetic writing style.  Here is another sample passage, one of eleven with one additional paragraph.

A beetle is telegraphic.
... Fireflies communicate by bioluminescence,
or glowing lights.  They flash their signals
to attract a mate, defend their territory,
and warn away predators.

In this title the watercolor illustrations by Sylvia Long are stunning in their delicacy and detail.  Her bugs are beautiful!  The "wheel" of beetles on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case crosses the spine and a similar form, a partial arc of insects, appears on the back from the center to the upper left-hand corner.  The crisp white background here welcomes our attention to the array of colors to be found on beetles. The opening and closing endpapers are a pattern taken from the outer wings of a beetle; a pale orange with irregular-shaped brown spots.

With a page turn all twenty-eight beetles featured here are pictured on two pages.  At the close of the book, the illustration is identical except each insect is named.  An extreme close-up of two beetles frames the bottom and top of the verso and title pages respectively.  It's a very clever use of their antennae.

Alternating between two-page larger images and single page pictures bordered in white paired with shifting perspectives, Long elevates the text and our appreciation for beetles.  At times an element in her pictures will extend beyond the boundary of the frame.  Each illustration is uniquely different but together they create a splendid portfolio.  Careful readers will notice Long starts and ends the title with the passage of time not only for the beetle but the plant on which it is placed.

One of my favorite pictures is of three Water-gliding Rove Beetles.  We are given a close-up view of them as if we are looking down on the water.  Their movement is shown with shaded hues of blue-green extending from their legs.  A portion of shoreline and overhanging leaves gives us a sense of their size.

Regardless of whether you are a bug-lover or not, A Beetle Is Shy written by Dianna Hutts Aston with illustrations by Sylvia Long is to be valued for the information, writing and exquisite illustrations.  It's a must have for your personal and professional shelves.  You might want to pair it with The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins.

You will want to follow the links attached to Dianna Hutts Aston's and Sylvia Long's names to access their websites.  When we know more about an author or an illustrator and their other work our admiration grows.

Please be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to read about the titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge this week.


  1. I love this inventive series but didn't realize there was a new book. Thanks for highlighting it!

    1. I totally agree Annette. I love the series too. I am so glad you now know about the new title. You're welcome.

  2. Wow, what a stunning book! Not so keen on the beetles the size of my hands though....yikes! :)

    1. It is definitely a stunning book Jane; as are all the titles this duo has made. I agree with you on the hand-size beetle. I have no plans to go to South American in the future. :)

  3. I have loved the Aston-Long collaboration for a long time, since An Egg is Quiet, still one of my very favorite books. Sylvia Long's illustrations are absolutely exquisite & this is no exception :)

    1. It's nice to know we are kindred spirits in our love of the Aston-Long books, Maria. I don't know how she makes such delicate pictures using watercolor.

  4. Each one of these books is fascinating, Margie. I only have A Seed Is Sleepy, but this might be another to purchase. Your description made me want to find and read it! I did love Steve Jenkins' Beetle Book too. Thanks for telling about this new one by Aston and Long.

    1. Dianna Hutts Aston always manages to find those amazing facts we didn't know but now we are glad we do. And Sylvia Long's pictures are gorgeous. I hope you are able to get a copy Linda.

  5. I quickly read this book before we left for Florida, and while it made me squeamish, I still enjoyed it. But while swimming last week and then again at night while washing dishes, I found big water beetles and I got really squeamish!!!

  6. I've really enjoyed the other books and will be sure to watch for this one. Strangely enough, I just watched a trailer for Beetle Boy yesterday. Beetles are the new thing for me this week I guess.