Favorite Kids’ Books: Insects, Spiders, & Other ‘Bugs’

On this page, you’ll find a growing list of children’s books that I’ve paired with some of my photos, videos, and blog posts. These are books I think will grab kids’ interest, maybe fill in some informational blanks, and—I hope—ignite a lifetime of curiosity about our natural world.

(If you wish to buy a book, consider Bookshop.org, where profit from online book purchases is distributed among independent bookstores.)

Here’s a terrific book about a huge problem: Nature Out of Balance: How Invasive Species Are Changing the Planet by Merrie-Ellen Wilcox. This book is packed with fascinating facts and photos. It features compelling examples (called Invasive All-Stars) of non-native plants, insects, and animals that were introduced and then out-competed other, native species. The book is suited for kids about nine to twelve. I love how it presents the challenge of dealing with invasives. Using kid-friendly language, the text highlights the problem’s complexity: There are no simple solutions, and sometimes, a solution backfires. This is a great book for kids and adults alike.

I included this book recommendation in a blog post about the spongy moth caterpillar, an invasive insect that can (and does) defoliate oaks and other trees. Here’s a peek at one of the hungry little non-native critters:

The Pie that Molly Grew, by Sue Heavenrich, illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg.

Seed, soil, sprout, sunlight, pollinators…pumpkin…pumpkin pie! Using a ‘House that Jack Built’ rhyme scheme, this clever, engaging book follows Molly as she discovers what happens after she sows a seed. We watch a series of plant processes that eventually produce a pumpkin—and then a pie. The book is a fun read, translating botany into a kid-friendly romp through one plant’s life story. The book also features the role of pollinators, both in the story and in back-matter explaining that without bees, there would be no pie. The illustrations are accurate but fun depictions of the plant’s development. They help kids visualize a plant’s scale, such as the very long roots that support even a tiny sprout. I especially appreciated one image that adds additional ‘characters’ to the plant’s story. It shows earthworms and insects that gardeners know are essential to soil health, a great discussion starter on the role of non-pollinators that help bring food to our tables. I highly recommend this terrific book.

I included this book in a blog post about bugs, both pollinators and not. I noticed a marked reduction in spiders and insects visiting my flowers, a mystery that still puzzles me. Here’s a photo from that post, of a net-winged beetle. It’s a beauty that I hope will return to my garden.

Ants for Kids is one terrific book, written by Beverly Gerdeman, Ph.D., with illustrations by Kate Francis and lots of great photos. The book explains ant anatomy and biology, with sections about life cycles, colony habits and sizes, ant-to-ant communication, diets, predators, and parasites. If that sounds dry, it’s not! The text is detailed but friendly, with art and photos to illustrate key information. Plus, the book includes several ‘junior scientists in action’ activities: mini experiments to help kids learn about the behavior of ants in their neighborhood. Ants are everywhere. This book is a terrific choice for inquisitive kids, and for anyone who might enjoy learning about ants and their significant contribution to our planet.

I included this book in my blog post about some puzzling ant behavior. Here’s a photo from that post.

Carpenter ant on a wood chip, biting into it

The Bug Girl (A True Story) is about Sophia, a girl who’s been a bug lover for as long as she can remember… and is made fun of for her ‘weird’ insect interests. Eventually, Sophia can’t stand the bullying and takes a break from bugs. Then her mom finds a sympathetic entomologist. Soon Sophia receives postcards and letters from scientists, especially women, everywhere. Their message, that it’s ok to love bugs, reignites Sophia’s passion for insects. She even helps write an article about how entomologists can get young people excited about science. The story is a fun read with engaging illustrations. But here’s the best part: It really is a true story, as the title says, about real-life, 7-year-old Sophia Spencer (with help from author Margaret McNamara). I highly recommend this book as a fun read and for its inspirational message about staying true to yourself.

I included this book in my blog post about stink bugs, imagining that Sophia Spencer finds reasons to admire them (as I do), even while acknowledging they’re invasive troublemakers. Here’s one photo from that post:

I laughed out loud when I read The Bugliest Bug, by Carol Diggory Shields and illustrated by Scott Nash. This picture book for ages about 4 to 7 has suspense, rollicking rhyme, and insect info rolled into one. Perfectly suited to read aloud, it’s a well-crafted marriage of fact and fiction.

In the story, all kinds of insects gather to compete for the title of ‘Bugliest Bug.’ Suspense builds as we wait to learn which insect wins the contest. The action heats up when the protagonist, an unassuming damselfly, begins to suspect the contest’s organizers—a gang of spiders—have ulterior motives.

Insect facts weave beautifully into the story. One concern of many reviewers is the illustrator’s choice to show insects with two arms and two legs instead of including six legs, as in real life. Even so, the art is fun and otherwise conveys the insects’ appearance. I feel that overall, the art works just fine. I highly recommend this book. It’s fun to read and a terrific way to encourage bug-inquisitiveness in very young kids.

I witnessed one bug competition that made me think of this book. A tiny nymph assassin bug ‘competed’ with a much bigger fly, taking the larger insect as prey. I wrote about that contest in a blog post. Clearly, the little guy was buglier than the fly.

Soar High, Dragonfly! is a beautiful, informative picture book by Sheri Mabry Bestor, illustrated by Jonny Lambert. The book follows one dragonfly’s life story, using language that’s simple and fun to read. It has side-bar text that augments and explains the lifecycle events taking place, perfect for pausing and reading by and with an older child who wants to know more. The combination of lovely text, gorgeous art, and science makes this book a wonderful gift to spark a young child’s love of nature.

What a look this eastern pondhawk gave me! These dragonflies are known to be aggressive hunters, so maybe he was sizing me up?

Here’s a fantastic kids’ book, Spi-ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs, by Leslie Bulion with art by Robert Meganck. I love this book’s clever title. ‘Clutter’ is the collective noun for spiders.

The publisher, Peachtree, recommends ages 8-12, but I promise you—anyone interested in insects and spiders, adults included, will love this book. I’ve read countless books, articles, and field guides about spiders. Few are as jam-packed with Spi-ku’s fun and approachable details. Not to mention the poetry. Bulion’s delicious, short verses are a fraction of the book’s larger body of information; like the icing on an already satisfying cake.

I learned tons reading the book. One of its best features for me: Bulion includes pronunciation prompts for spider body parts like chelicerae (cheh/LIH/suh/ray), their sharp-fanged jaws. Meganck’s illustrations are top-notch: lively and fun without sacrificing accuracy. I highly recommend this book.

One of the spiders featured in Spi-ku is the long-bodied cellar spider. I found this one not in a cellar, but outdoors, which is not unusual. You’re looking at the spider’s underside, including the egg sac this mama carries in her mouthparts. Don’t those eggs look like little pearls?

A terrific introduction to caterpillars and their life cycle is Caterpillar and Bean by Martin Jenkins, art by Hannah Tolson. This picture book about a bean plant and a caterpillar shows how plants and insects interact. A seed becomes a plant, and an egg laid on the plant’s leaf hatches and grows into a caterpillar. We see the leaves being eaten as the caterpillar grows, then forms a chrysalis. By the end of the story, both the plant and the caterpillar come full circle in this fun, scientifically accurate, and beautifully illustrated book.

I wrote a blog post inspired by petal munchers, including caterpillars, in my garden. Here’s one petal eater, a pug moth caterpillar. Be sure and check out the blog post. It has a close-up video of a very young pug moth caterpillar munching a flower, where you can see the petal bites moving through the caterpillar’s see-through ‘throat.’

A pug moth caterpillar stretched out on the petal of a black-eyed Susan flower.

Here’s a great picture book to help squeamish kids see beauty in spiders instead of squishing them: I’m Trying to Love Spiders, by Bethany Barton. Her language and art are full of fun as she acknowledges our fear of spiders and introduces reasons we should love them anyway. Perfect for kids 3-8, the book will encourage them to take a closer look at the next arachnid that crosses their path and perhaps nudge it to a more suitable location instead of giving it a swat.

One of my own spider encounters made me think of this book. I was eating outside on the patio when a spider rappelled to my plate. Naturally, I took a photo of the little guy as he tried to use my fork as an escape ramp. Then I ferried him to a safer spot.

Jerry Pallotta’s Who Would Win? – Ultimate Bug Rumble, illustrated by Rob Bolster. The book’s sixteen-creature, bracketed tournament pits bug against bug, with cool facts about their anatomy and fight tactics. All Pallotta’s books are super-engaging. This one might just spark kids’ interest in entomology.

One of my blog posts also explores insect winners and losers. It’s called A Wasp Whodunnit, where I share a wasp-nest crime scene and try to figure out who’s responsible for murder and mayhem. Here’s a photo from that post—and nope, that’s not a wasp. It’s an earwig, which may or may not be a suspect.

An earwig stands on a paper wasp nest

Candace Fleming’s Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera. This book about social insects follows one worker bee’s fascinating life journey. Fleming’s storytelling stays true to facts while transforming nonfiction into a riveting page-turner. Eric Rohmann’s gorgeous, detailed art puts us inside the hive and flying alongside the protagonist, Apis. Kids will love this book, and I bet you will, too!

In another blog post, A Question of Palace Intrigue, I wrote about how paper wasps are also social insects that work cooperatively to care for their colonies’ little ones—until they turn cold-hearted and sinister, that is. In this photo from that post, the wasp is munching on one of the nest’s pupae.

A paper wasp chews on the leg of a removed pupa

The Truth About Spiders, by Annette M. Whipple. The book explains spider anatomy and biology, like how they make silk and build webs. It answers questions a creeped-out kid might have, like why are spiders so hairy? Whipple also explores the question of danger; why we need to understand spiders can bite, but we don’t need to fear them. The text is a fun read with fabulous macro photos. I could barely tear myself away from one page to read the next!

Here’s a photo of one of my many spidey neighbors. With that spooky shadow, he might be scary to some kids. All the more reason to have them read Whipple’s book!

Moth & Butterfly: Ta Da! by Dev Petty, illustrated by Ana Aranda. The book shows how moths and butterflies are similar and how they’re different. Both text and art made me laugh out loud. My favorite spread is one where the caterpillars are eating leaves—the art is hysterical.

Here’s my related photo. Less flamboyant than a Monarch, the hickory hairstreak butterfly’s style is all about accessories. Look at those matching legs & antennae!

I just love The Book of Brilliant Bugs, by Jess French, illustrated by Claire McElfatrick. It’s much more than a (terrific) reference book. It has lots of great explanations, including why bugs matter on our planet. There’s also a wonderful invertebrates family tree. Kids will love this book.

In my blog post, From Petticoat to Ball Gown, a tree cricket’s wings unfurl. But something key to her survival is missing… can you tell what it is from the photos? All is revealed in that post.

13 Ways to Eat a Fly, by Sue Heavenrich, illustrated by David Clark. Kids engage in a fly countdown with every page turn. That’s because the book follows a swarm of thirteen flies that one by one get consumed by a predator. The kid appeal is fantastic as the hapless flies are zapped, liquified, zombified, or eaten using other means of capture. This book is filled with facts that may inspire an interest in entomology. Better yet, it’s more than educational—it’s hysterical! The book even includes nutritional information about a single serving of flies.

I couldn’t possibly eat the horse fly you see here—I couldn’t stop staring at his shades!

Image Credits: Carol Doeringer, Publishers (for book covers).