________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 15 . . . . March 20, 2009

cover Ugly Bugs. (Horrible Science).

Nick Arnold. Illustrated by Tony De Saulles.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 1996/2009.
141 pp., pbk., $6.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-98997-8.

Subject Heading:
Insects-Miscellanea-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Barbara McMillan.

*** /4


Science is about us. How we live and what happens to us everyday. And the best bits of science are also the most horrible bits. That's what this book is about. Not science, but horrible science. Take ugly bugs for instance. You don't need to go very far to find them. Lift up any stone and something crawls out. Look into any dark, creepy corner and there's some ugly bug lurking there. Decide on a nice early morning bath and you might discover that you'll be sharing it with a huge hairy spider. You see, ugly bugs bring science to life. Horrible life.

Author Nick Arnold and illustrator Tony De Saulles are back with another volume in the "Horrible Science" series (see Blood, Bones and Body Bits and Nasty Nature reviewed in the 07 November 2008 issue of CM). As you have likely guessed from the title, Ugly Bugs is about insects and what Arnold refers to as "nasty non-insects." These are the slugs and snails, centipedes and millipedes, spiders and mites, and the variety of worms that live in the soil or other dark and damp environments.

     Like previous books in the series, Ugly Bugs attempts to interest readers in the natural world by presenting information in ways that are weird and somewhat disgusting, but always accurate. Rather than learning facts about insects, beetles, and snails, for example, readers are introduced to "ugly bug families", "horrible beetles", and "slimy snails." As they read, they learn the anatomical characteristics that distinguish insects from other organisms in the animal kingdom and begin to understand how scientists classify insects. Beetles are the biggest insect group with "at least 35,000 species." According to Arnold, beetles look "horribly ugly" to some people but are actually "horribly amazing."

     Snails, one of the "nasty non-insects, belong to the group of animals known as mollusks and are distinguished by the shell on their back, the tentacles on their head, and a foot that excretes slime so that movement on land is easier. It does, however, leave a "horrible silvery slime trail."

     What's interesting about Arnold's presentation is the varied ways he shares what he knows, and how this knowledge is illustrated by De Saulles' more silly than frightening, but clear, cartoon-like drawings. For each kind of insect or non-insect, there is a fact file which contains the name of the organism, where it is found, and distinguishing characteristics. This is followed by factual information. Depending on the "ugly bug" described, facts can be presented in numbered lists or lists divided into good, bad, and ugly sections or as a series of matching, true-false, or multiple choice questions. On occasion, illustrated pages from a field guide, newspaper, or crime sheet that only Arnold and De Saulles could have created are used. There are also short sections with headings like "Could you be a spider scientist?", "Bet you never knew:", and "Dare you make friends with…a woodlouse?" It is the latter component that invites readers to carefully and cautiously study living insects and non-insects first-hand.

     Ugly Bugs ends with an interesting section, "Ugly Bugs vs Horrible Humans." Arnold suggests this had been a non-stop war that began "the day that a caveman or cavewoman first squashed a cockroach." This section is followed by an "Ugly Bug Quiz" and a "Horrible Index". Although I'm not convinced that this is the best way of learning about insects and other small animals, I do believe it is the kind of book that will appeal to adolescent readers who will be entertained while still getting a dose of science.


Barbara McMillan is a teacher educator and a professor of science education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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