Heads and Tails: Insects – written and illustrated by John Canty


 Heads and Tails: Insects – written and illustrated by John Canty, Candlewick, 9781536207842, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover

What did you like about the book?  Absolutely stunning artwork and book design make this “guess the bug” outing very eye-catching. Using a combination of transparent brushwork over highly detailed antique pen-and-ink drawings of insects, Canty queries readers about the identity of each critter, showing their back half loosely rendered in watercolor along with a few lines of text with hints. For example, “I have four wings, I can fly up and down and from side to side, I look scary but I am harmless” accompanied by a red and blue striped tail and just two lime-green wings, is followed by the words DRAGONFLY along with the rest of the bug when we turn the page. The text is also innovative and attractive, with a clear, old-fashioned typewriter font breaking from black to 3 colors (blue, green and red) and the “I am a …” in bold, black free-form calligraphy. The bugs are all common and there’s enough detail in the dark overlay so that you can clearly see the hairs on the fly’s legs and the oversized, glittering eyes of the praying mantis. The last insect (ants) ushers in a final bit of humor as an anteater lumbers in to tidy up the scene. Beautiful illustrated endpapers add to the appeal.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No. It’s high concept with not a lot of written content, but fun to pour over and admire.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Very young entomologists, 2-5 years. The basic facts and introductory level variety make it a good fit. If your kids enjoyed Steve Jenkin’s classic What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? (2008) then this would be a good follow-up. I can also see it being a good read aloud for a bug-themed storytime or as an introduction to a unit of study in kindergarten.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? 571.1

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes, beautiful and unique

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: July 28, 2020

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