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I can't say that I ever gave ants a lot of thought before my sons became fascinated by them, but since then we have all learned and incredible amount about the little creatures. This book was purchased for home education purposes, but I feel that it is well suited to any child with an interest in ants. My children are ages 4 and 8 and both enjoyed this book. I would say that 4 is the absolute minimum to really understand this book, and I did have to explain a few parts to the younger child, but then if they are asking questions you know they are learning something. I think it would easily suit children up to age 12, and I did find it interesting myself.
If you are looking for a book with large amounts of information on different and exotic ant species, I really could not recommend this one. There are a few different species, but this book is a more generalised book, focussing on the life cycle of ants as a large group rather than a resource to learn about the 11,000+ known species.
This book is part of a life cycle series which includes several other title. I also own the Life Cycle of a Flower, and both of these are excellent books. There are several other featured animals including sharks, butterflies, beetles, penguins, wolves, birds even mosquitoes and many more, so if the outline of the book sounds interesting, but ants do not, it is worth checking out the entire range.
The book begins by explaining exactly what an ant is. It explains that ants are invertebrates, insects and Hymenoptera ( a group of flying insects that includes ants, wasps and bees. I quite like this because it encourages children to start thinking about the scientific classification of organisms. It also teaches children the different castes of ants, their body parts and what the function of each part is. After this is a short section on colonies and nests, including a very interesting but brief paragraph on army ants making a living tent by linking bodies together to protect the queen and eggs when they rest during the day.
Only after learning the very basic facts about ants does the child move on to the main section, the life cycle. This explains the difference between life cycle and life span, has an illustration showing the process starting with an egg, which hatches into a larva, then a pupa and finally and adult. There are some excellent high magnification photos, as well as more detail information on each stage of the life cycle. You can actually see the eyes of a larva ready to hatch within the clear egg, and view worker ants bundling several eggs together to move them. There are several photos of larva and pupa as well including one very high magnification of a pure white pupa folded up in a cocoon which looks very much like something from a sci-fi flick.
Next we learn about the mating behaviour of ants, but there is nothing to graphic here. However, if you are too uncomfortable with the word sperm you may want to avoid this book. According to the book, not all of the queens eggs will be fertilised, but strangely enough, the unfertilised ones still hatch. Fertilised eggs will be female and unfertilised eggs will be male. I still can't figure out how this one works, despite having looked on Wikipedia. The book does mention that the male dies afterwards. Thankfully it does not say how - if you want a shock - zip over to Wikipedia and look up "nuptial flight". A queen ant only mates once. She will remain fertile for life. After mating a new colony is formed. Finally, the book winds up with some details on the social lives of ants, diet and feeding and ants in danger or under threat. The final page is short section on making an ant farm and keeping ants.
We all really enjoyed this book. The boys loved the photographs which are of an exceptionally high quality show all sorts of tiny details. the magnification shows even tiny hairs on some of the ants, and all the photos are sharp and clear. They especially loved the pictures of the eggs, larvae and pupae. they also enjoyed seeing the different castes of ant : worker, soldier, queen and drones. There is one photo under feeding where one regurgitates into another's mouth which had the perfect level of gross for young boys.
I loved this book because, although written at a fairly easy reading level - I think most children could read this easily by age 7 - this does present a fair amount of scientific detail. It encourages children to think in terms of classification of species as well as to understand how the ants life cycle works, how creatures change as they grow, and of course something of the way these insects live in a huge group, each member with it's part to play.
My only issue with the book is that for some reason they have added odd shaped coloured patches over the text. The text is dark, large, well spaced and in a standard easy to read font, but these patches of colour can prove a bit distracting even for me. My son did not seem to be troubled by it ( we alternated reading sections of this), But I do feel this could add a barrier for a child who is struggling with literacy. I honestly see no reason to have done this. The book would have been far better without it, but someone seemed to feel the need to add decoration. I have not rated down, as I don't want to take a whole star off for one small issue, but I will not recommend this for a child really struggling to read unless a parent is happy to do the reading for them.
After buying this book, I immediately bought another in the series and I would really love to more , as would my children. I think that alone earns this 5 stars.