Children’s Book Review – Heads and Tails: Insects

Cover Image for Heads and Tails: Insects

Heads and Tails: Insects by John Canty

This book was Shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year Awards – Early Childhood.

You can only see my tail. What insect am I? Follow the clues to discover which beautiful insect awaits you on the next page!

This book, like it’s prequel Heads and Tails – one of Better Beginning’s 30 Books for Curious Kids, utilises a child’s prior knowledge to give them mysteries to solve.

Each right hand half of the double-page spread contains some clues like…

I live in a hive.
I make honey.
I can sting you.

Then asks the kids to solve the riddle – I AM A…

There is also the added hint of a insect’s tail to give kids a clue if they are unsure.

Readers have the opportunity to guess what it is and then turn the page to see if they are right or wrong. If they get it right, woohoo, if they get it wrong…oh well, good opportunity to practise our resiliency and they get to have another go straight away.

The text is large and moves around the page which gives is the reader the opportunity to develop their tracking skills and to reinforce their print awareness.

Tracking skills – our eyes’ ability to move around and focus on things at different distances or in this case to find the next beginning of a sentence on the page. Tracking skills develop from very early on and start off as big (gross) skills – our ability to watch someone walk towards us, watching trees moving in the breeze, watching animals moving around. These hone and develop to more precise (fine) skills – tracking down to the next line of text, threading a needle, follow a line of ants as they colonise your lemon tree.¬† With books like this we are developing our ability to track as part of pre-reading skills (the skills that lead to formal reading). The sentences start at different positions so we have to find the beginning of the sentence, we have to move our eye and focus on the new sentence. This ties in well with print awareness.

Print Awareness – our understanding of how print works. In Australian books we read left to right, we turn pages right to left, we read top to bottom. In addition things like we start sentences with capitals, we end them with a full stop. Books like this, that move text around the page reinforces this idea as we follow the text. The first line might start in the middle of the page but we know it’s the first line because it’s at the top, etc. Each time we move along we find the beginning of the sentence. Even though we don’t stop in the middle of the book and discuss this children pick this up through observation and repeated exposure.

The text in the book also utilises different text colours and fonts to help make things stand out. The question ‘I am a…’ and the reveal are in a distinct font. The colour highlights the part of the sentence that is a clue for instance ‘I have large back legs’ the part LARGE BACK LEGS is the clue so it is in blue and the rest of the sentence is in black.

Through the technical aspects of the book that I have mentioned, what is a very simple idea…clues for kids to guess insects, is also a great opportunity to reinforce other aspects of language. In addition, the illustrations are beautiful. To my eye it looks like pen drawings with watercolours applied over them and it is beautiful. Especially eye-catching is the double-page butterfly spread after we have just watched the caterpillar cocoon and then emerge from its metamorphosis. The colours are natural and show how an insect looks while also being vibrant.

I would read this book with anyone who can recognise insects and even with children who can’t yet.
I intend to share this book with the children at my Friday Storytime during Children’s Book Week and I’m sure beyond that as well.