Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite!
Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite!
Narrator: Every backyard is home to thousands of insect species.
Burt: Whoa, that's AMAZING!
Narrator: Some fly.
Insect one (mosquito): Bzzzz
Insect two (dragonfly): I'm the fastest flying insect!
Insect three (butterfly): (And the braggiest.)
Narrator: And some crawl.
Insect four: Look at those pincers!
Insect five: Yikes!
Insect six: Please don't look at my bum!
Burt: By the way, I can fly AND crawl!
Narrator: This is a ten-lined June Beetle.
Burt: My friends call me Burt.
Narrator: Also known as a watermelon beetle.
Burt: I don't see the resemblance.
(Burt vs. Actual watermelon)
Narrator: June beetles have feathery antennae…
Burt: It’s a style choice.
Narrator: A furry belly…
Burt: All natural.
Narrator: And can grow up to two inches long.
Burt: Don't worry-I may be big, but I don’t bite. I'm more of a hugger.
Ashley Spires of the “Binky Adventure” and “Fairy Science” series returns with an early graphic reader that's chock full of her signature charm and humour. This time, readers meet Burt the Beetle and other backyard insect friends. Burt is a ten-lined June Beetle who's not a biter, but, as readers already know, Burt’s "more of a hugger.” The graphic format allows for a narrator to set up some facts about insects and for Burt to riff and react to the narrator and speak directly to readers with comments about the insects being showcased.
As Burt genially introduces bugs with superpower abilities, such as ants (who can carry 50 times their own weight), hawk moths (who shoot ultrasonic blasts), termites (who spray paralyzing venom), and stink bugs, who, well, spray stinky odors, Burt realizes that June bugs can't seem to compare with his insect friends. Burt showcases abilities such as being able to tap-dance, but is that a superpower ability? He even fails at seemingly normal skills many bugs are capable of accomplishing, such as climbing a wall, scuttling along the ground quickly, and flying in a single direction.
Burt is now downcast, but then the narrator booms, "As impressive as insects' abilities might be, few of them can escape a sticky spiderweb." Turning the page, the reader and Burt discover to their dismay that all his super-powered friends are stuck in just such a web! Burt tries to rescue his pals by getting them to latch onto a leaf, but it snaps. As Burt tries to roll right-side up, a shadow looms above him, revealing its owner to be a small, but extra venomous, spider.
Before his friends become the spider’s dinner, Burt has to think of a way to rescue his friends. He thinks aloud: "I don't sting or blast ultrasonic waves or make stinkies...And I can't make sticky bum strings. I'm more of a HUGGER!" And Burt envelopes the shocked arachnid in a sticky embrace, securing the shocked spider onto Burt's sticky, furry belly and trapping him for good (I'm sure they will become friends in no time). It so happens that Burt is also big enough to break apart the web so his friends can finally extricate themselves and cheer him on.
This adorable story of finding one's gifts and accepting them for what makes one special is a winner, one with a indefatigably cheerful and likeable protagonist. Burt is rotund and has large expressive eyes, and all of the insects are represented halfway between a breezy cartoony style and an anatomical accuracy that allows for their identification. The reading format is perfect for young readers just starting to engage with texts on their own, with easy-to-decipher lettering that employs capital letters for the narrator and standard lettering for conversation bubbles. A two-page spread after the narration ends features more amazing insect super facts. End papers show a gallery of insects with their abilities listed beneath each one rather than naming the species, abilities such as a "super destroyer of sweaters" for a clothes moth, and "super into polka-dots,"for a lady-bug. Pitched just right for its humour, camaraderie, and exploration of the natural world right in our backyards, Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! will have readers bugging their librarians for more of this beetle’s adventures.
Ellen Wu is a collections services librarian specializing in juvenile materials at Surrey Libraries in British Columbia. She is not a fan of most insects, but Burt may have changed her mind about some.