Children’s writers and illustrators love putting cats and dogs in books. Bears, birds, mice, and hamsters do pretty well, too. Insects… not so much, especially outside of picture books. And that’s a shame, because insects are the unsung heroes of our world, and they could use some good press.
Nearly half of insect species are declining now, and many of them are in so much trouble that they could disappear before the end of the century. Saving them is going to be a crucial 21st-century job, so it’s vital that we help kids to see insects as interesting and likable—and not just something to be squished. Our stories can help with that.
Luckily, the insects who do get starring roles in middle-grade fiction are memorable. Here are some of my favorites:
Marvin, the artistic beetle in Elise Broach’s Masterpiece
No one ever expected Marvin to be an artist… especially not his family, who live under a sink in a New York apartment. But when 11-year-old James discovers Marvin’s talent, the two strike up a wonderful friendship and foil an art theft.
Baxter, the clever rhinocerous beetle in M G. Leonard’s Beetle Boy.
Baxter is the standout beetle (among many) in this book. Brave and determined, he becomes friends with a young boy named Darkus Cuttle. Together they work to defeat the evil Lucretia Cutter, who has nefarious plans for beetle-kind.
Chester, the musical genius in George Selden’s Tucker’s Countryside
Chester is most famous for his role in The Cricket in Times Square, but when I was growing up, my favorite Chester book was this one. I still love how Chester, Tucker Mouse, Harry Cat, and the girl Ellen work to save Chester’s endangered meadow and the creatures who live there.
With the Ra the Mighty mystery series, I’m delighted to be adding my own insect hero to the list: Khepri, a scarab beetle in Ancient Egypt, who is the Sherlock Holmes of the ancient world. Khepri’s partner in (solving) crime is his best buddy, Ra the Mighty, Pharaoh’s Cat
“Three cheers for the Great Detectives!” Khepri likes to say. To which I would add, “Three cheers for insects, too!”
A. B. Greenfield is the award-winning writer of Ra the Mighty, a funny mystery illustrated by Sarah Horne. It was a 2019 Edgar Award finalist. Ra and Khepri’s next mystery, The Great Tomb Robbery, comes out in October and is a Junior Library Guild Selection. You can visit Amy at http://www.amybutlergreenfield.com.