Book List: Inspiration for Bug of the Year

This is the second year of New Zealand Bug of the Year. Step aside, Bird of the Year, the Entomological Society of New Zealand is keen to get our nation more interested in the lesser known heroes of our environment. Linda Jane Keegan has put together a list of books to get you inspired, and you can check out the 2024 nominees here!

Image from New Zealand Bug of the Year

Before diving into a selection of books that explore and identify some of Aotearoa’s smallest critters, a quick word about what kind of animals we are talking about when we talk about bugs. Entomologists (people who study insects) and pedants (people who are overly concerned about technical accuracy) talking about bugs, or “true bugs”, are talking about insects from the order Hemiptera or suborder Heteroptera. That covers insects like aphids, cicadas, planthoppers, scale insects, shield bugs, bed bugs, and many more. Most people (including at least some entomologists) when talking about bugs are referring to any small invertebrates so includes anything from bees to spiders to worms to centipedes to moths to wētā, aka anything you might call creepy crawlies.

Linda Jane Keegan, unbitten, with invertebrate samples [Photo: Stacey Bensemann]

I’m here to say that bugs don’t have to be creepy. They are fascinating, bizarre and ecologically important creatures. Many of us grew up learning to fear these small and mostly harmless inhabitants of our gardens, household corners, and pretty much everywhere. In an solid effort to impart upon my own child that picking up bugs was Not Scary, when we came across a cool-looking big black beetle in New Hampshire, I picked it up for us to take a closer look. It promptly bit me. So I promptly dropped it and probably squealed and destroyed any semblance of bug courage that might have been forming (in me or my child). Since then I’ve been introduced to the wise ways of collection containers and pooters (yes, they are really called that!) so you can observe without wondering whether a bug has a particularly bitey defence. You can even make your own.

And now on to the books! There is a mix of identification guides, general reading, and picture books (including board books!) to enjoy. I hope they create or rekindle a love for discovery for all ages, and maybe help you find a favourite for Bug of the Year. You can vote here until 12 February 2024.

The Observologist

By Giselle Clarkson

Published by Gecko Press

RRP: $40.00

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“Giselle has exquisitely merged science and whimsy with her characteristic cartoon style accompanying richly detailed text. The writing is like a delicious snack; so sweet and palatable and easy to digest. Handwritten headings and labels add pleasing variety to the text and work in harmony with the illustrations. The whole book is a delightful piece of writing, illustration, science, and design—a carefully curated museum for all ages.” You can read the rest of my review here.

New Zealand’s Backyard Beasts

By Ned Barraud

Published by Potton & Burton

RRP: $21.99

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“This fantastic book inspired my children to jump straight into the garden to see what creatures they could uncover. It’s a large paperback book, perfect for flicking through to find insects and identify mystery creatures. The muted greens, blues and browns of the book’s design echo the colours of our natural environment, and the vibrant and detailed illustrations from the talented Ned Barraud bring these ‘backyard beasts’ to life.” Read the rest of Tara Ward’s review here, and a few comments from me here.

The Life-Size Guide to Insects

By Andrew Crowe

Published by Penguin Random House NZ

$25.00 – $28.00

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A large format paperback with, as the title suggests, life-size photos of insects and other invertebrates. Andrew Crowe has done other life-size guides too, you can read about them here. There is also a mini guide!

Which New Zealand Insect?

By Andrew Crowe

Published by Penguin

RRP: $35.00

Buy now

A more comprehensive version of the life-size guide, in a smaller format and more details. You can read more about it here. There is also Which New Zealand Spider? if eight legs are more your jam.

My Little Book of Bugs

Illustrated by Jean-Claude Stahl

Published by Te Papa Press

RRP: $19.99

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“This well-crafted bilingual (Māori and English) board book about Aotearoa’s bugs is a must-have for your little one’s library. Each spread has a photograph of a bug on the right, and the name of the bug in a title box in both Māori and English on the left, accompanied by a relevant fact.” Read the rest of Nida Fiazi’s review here.

Ngārara i roto i te kete | Bugs in the kete

By Katie Kool & Cindy Tan

Published by Rākau Press

RRP: $21.99

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Ngārara i roto i te kete: Bugs in the Kete encourages readers to count the number of different types of bugs in each kete. It gives the number in numeric form, written form in both English and Māori, and also with coloured dots, so lots of exposures on the page that will help a child recognise the numbers. The flaps in these two books are lovely—illustrations of beautiful kete that hide the bugs or the objects of different colours.” Read more of Belinda Whyte’s review here.

I Love Bugs

By Elspeth Alix Batt

Published by OneTree House

RRP: $40.00

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“This simple, fun text is perfect for young readers; they will enjoy the multitude of reasons to love bugs. […] The blurb on the back cover sells this book as being ‘ideal for every budding entomologist’ and while that may be true, I am proof that you don’t even have to like bugs to enjoy this cute, jiggly and surprising picture book.” Read the rest of Simie Simpson’s review here.

NZ Bugs and Critters

By Dave Gunson

Published by New Holland Publishers

RRP: $14.99

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Dave Gunson has produced many a wildlife book, including this board book, and a older-reader one which appears to be out of print, All About New Zealand Insects and Other Creepy-Crawlies.

Wētā Finds a Home

By Gay Hay

Illustrated by Margaret Tolland

Published by Starfish Bay Children’s Books

RRP: $24.99

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“In the bushland, a wētā is looking for the perfect hidey hole home. But each time wētā finds what seems like the perfect spot, it is occupied by other hungry creatures, predators, and even another wētā. Readers will enjoy learning about the creatures of the New Zealand bushland while dramatic tension keeps them turning the page in this lyrically written,detailed and realistically illustrated picture book about these fascinating creatures.” – from the publisher’s website.

An Exqusite Legacy

By George Gibbs

Published by Potton & Burton

RRP: $59.99

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I’ll preface this by saying it’s not a children’s book. But was a finalist in the Illustrated Non-Fiction category of the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, and deservedly so. From the publisher website: “An Exquisite Legacy by George Gibbs, is the illustrated biography of G. V. Hudson, 1867-1946, one of New Zealand’s greatest pioneer naturalists and artists, whose remarkable illustrations of this country’s insects are a national treasure, while his huge, personal collection of insects is housed at Te Papa.”

A Photographic Guide to Insects of New Zealand

By Brian Parkinson

Photographs by Don Horne

Published by New Holland Publishers

RRP: $27.99

Buy now

Know Your New Zealand… Insects & Spiders

By John Early

Photographs by Don Horne

Published by New Holland Publishers

$35.99 – $40.00

Buy now

Bonus content

Apparently I have always had a weird connection with bugs. My only explanation for the images below is that I am pretty sure this was the result of a “double dog dare” and thus I had no other choice. I will just add that The Sapling does not recommend licking bugs.

Linda Jane Keegan about to lick a bug, apparently, in New South Wales, 2009
Very excellent 2009 digital close-up photo quality

cartoon character with long hair smiling

Linda Jane is the lead editor of The Sapling, a parent, and a writer of picture books, poetry, and other tidbits. Her background is varied, including work in ecology, environmental education, summer camps, and a community newspaper. She is Singaporean-Pākehā, queer, and loves leaping into cold bodies of water.