Wednesday, August 4, 2021

BUGS DON'T HUG: Six Legged Parents and Their Kids- A NonFiction Picture Book Review and Author Interview

After I took a webinar with Heather Montgomery on the "Dynamics of Science and Nature Writing," I knew I wanted to share her book, BUGS DON'T HUG (Charlesbridge, 2018) with you. 

Not only is each page filled with interesting and unusual facts, but showing bugs as babies with their mommies and daddies, makes the information completely accessible to even very young readers. 

Check out this opening spread creatively illustrated by Stephen Stone.

From a bug lifted from his crib to four bugs gathered around the breakfast table, young readers will relate to baby bugs. Each laughable concept (a mother bug making scrambled eggs and toast) to it's real counterpart, (a mother cricket who lays special eggs for her babies),  Montgomery and Stone have brought entomology into the pre-school through second grade classroom.

Normal parts of a parent's day are compared with what bugs do. So, "Daddy bugs don't clean up dirty diapers" but,

"At lunchtime bugs don't plea with picky eaters..." But, 

In the same way, the author and illustrator show fantastical versions of bugs not rocking their babies, serving birthday cakes, or tucking their babies in--juxtaposed (with a page turn) of illustrations depicting real bugs doing, well...just about that!

In the end the reader is asked...

Which is answered on the next page:

The back matter includes three pages with information about the nine featured bugs, a short recommended reading list, and an introduction to scientific language. The note to parents emphasizes that our reaction to insects will shape how children will feel about them.


I was super-impressed with the rhythm which Heather created for the reader.  Naturally, I had to ask about her creative process.

CAROL: I love how you set the book up with statements and refutations from the bug world--the pacing and page turns are so cool. Did you envision it like this? Did you request that the book be set up in this manner? 

HEATHER: It took me a long time to figure this book out, but yes, the manuscript I submitted included the vision to use page turns to (1) allow kids a chance to predict (2) help separate the fantastical and realistic depictions. I did not, however, include specific page turn instructions in the manuscript. Later, after the book was acquired and the editor asked for it, I shared a book map to convey this vision (which she loved!). 

I think that in nonfiction books we often put all the information about one animal/topic on one spread and miss the opportunity to use the page turn for drama and as a pause to encourage thinking. As an author, I wanted to take advantage of that aspect of the picture book format; as an educator, I wanted to give kids an easy in to (and adults an excuse to discuss) thinking about the two different presentations of each animal. I'm all about encouraging critical thinking and thought that exagerating the playful/realistic depictions would help kids "get" the need to read words and visuals carefully.

CAROL: And of course the inevitable did you come up with the idea? I guess that's sort of like a chicken and egg type question. Did you know certain bugs took care of their young in these specific ways, or did you imagine the book first? 

I'm a bug nut and am always looking for ways to invite others to love bugs. I had read this fascinating book, The Other Insect Societies by Dr. James Costa, about the subsocial insects. We all know about social insects like ants and bees which live in colonies and about insects who drop their eggs and leave, but Dr Costa's book opened my mind to this world of insects that give some form of parental care. I used up about a thousand sticky notes to flag phenomenal facts in that book and had been trying to figure out a way to incorporate them into a book for kids. One day as I was taking a walk with a friend and her young kids, I found my way into this book. Her son and I found an earwig and, uncomfortable with the creep factor, my friend stepped away.  But when said, "Hey, it's a bug mommy!" she showed a bit of interest. Then I told her son that this mom had to shop in the forest for her kids favorite foods, and my friend stepped closer. By the time I said that the bug mom has to give her eggs a bath every day to keep dangerous fungus away, my friend was leaning over my shoulder to see more. Right then it clicked. 

The book needed to be for adults as well as the kids. For all those grown-ups who feel squeamish when their little one brings them a six-legged treasure . . . For that moment when they want to squash the bug but their child loves it .. .  If I could just give adults new insight, I might be able to turn conflicted moments into moments of shared wonder. 

And then, with a "big idea" firmly in mind, I could finally pick out the useful pieces from my junk heap of research and make progress towards a publishable book.

CAROL: As an adult who feels squeamish about bugs, I love how you "found your way" into this book.  Thanks for introducing adults and children into these many dimension of bug life!


Congratulations to Danielle Hammelef who won Isabel and Her Colores Go To School, and to Janet Sheets who won The Color Collector. No giveaway this week. My grandchildren are adding BUGS DON'T HUG to their library!


Danielle H. said...

I love how this author found the heart of her story. This interview is inspirational. Thank you for sharing it today!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Danielle. I was impressed too!

Janet Frenck Sheets said...

The humor in this book looks like a lot of fun. Today's non-fiction picture books are so much more exciting than the ones that I saw growing up.

Carol Baldwin said...

I totally agree, Janet!

Sue Heavenrich said...

I love this book! Heather knows how to mix in humor and fun with real science.

Rosi said...

I learned a lot just by reading this post. Thanks for that. I will be checking the book out. It looks terrific.

Annette Whipple said...

Our family loves this book. As a kidlit author and bug lover, I love how easy it is for anyone to connect to the insects featured. I highly recommend Heather Montgomery's other books, too.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Annette and Sue! I agree!!

Jilanne Hoffmann said...

This is one I've got to add to my shelves. Thanks for featuring, Carol!

Carol Baldwin said...

You're welcome, Jilanne. You would love it!

Barbara Younger said...

This books looks wonderful! I'd love to win a copy to read myself and then share with my bug-loving grandkids. Thanks, Carol!

Carol Baldwin said...

It is a great book--but my grandkids had dibs on this one!

Rosie Russell said...

What a cute book and a great way to learn more about bugs!
Thanks for sharing, Carol and Heather Montgomery.

Carol Baldwin said...

hanks Rosie!

Virginia Rinkel said...

So nice to hear about how you found the 'clincher' of how to include and work the words to present this book, Heather. Love how you drew the squeamish mother in by including real human life phrases to draw the human mother in to identify with empathy towards the bugs. Sheer genius! I use it as a mentor book also. Thank you, Carol and Heather.

Carol Baldwin said...

I agree, Virginia!

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