PARK WATCH Article December 2023 |

Jessie Borrelle, Digital Engagement and Communications Manager, with her daughter Billie, review Where are all the Christmas Beetles? by Suzanne Houghton

CSIRO Publishing, 2023, 32pp, ISBN 9781486317905

So Billie, this is a kid’s book and you’re a kid – did you like this book?  The best!

Why did you like it? The beetles!

What about the beetles? Rhyming beetles! Different golden shines! Lots of shaded colours! And the magpie is one of my favourite birds.

So out of ten – what do you give the book?  Ten! So mummy, the Christmas Beetles come around to tell us that it’s Christmas? Are they a sign that it’s Christmas soon?

Suzanne Houghton’s exploration of the lifecycle, behaviour and gradual decline of Australia’s Christmas Beetles deftly merged two of Billie’s great passions: Christmas and critters.

From the way their bodies mimic ‘baubles on a tree’, to how ‘our garden jewels’ help the bush thrive, Houghton artfully folds observation, intimacy and scientific information into an easy to read and engaging rhythmic text.

The simple pencil illustrations amplify the storyline, helping to keep it focussed. Billie did have some qualms that a particular drawing didn’t accurately represent the Christmas Beetle’s anatomy, sparking one of many interesting conversations.

The reverent but curious lyricism is a great container for what is at its heart a difficult issue. Whilst I’m far from ready to discuss the idea of shifting baseline syndrome with my almost-six-year-old, books like Where are all the Christmas Beetles? are a gentle way to encounter the profound ways humanity has diminished nature.

Nearly six, Billie is within the recommended age group for the book (5-9), which also includes a glossary, further information and additional teacher notes for use in schools.

We usually find a handful of these living gems in our creek-side neighbourhood, but after discovering how common Christmas Beetles once were, I felt deeply nostalgic for a memory that isn’t mine – clouds of radiant green-gold beetles heralding the start of the silly season in Victoria.