Summer in Western Australia brings its fair share of exciting insect life. While I like to affect a live-and-let-live attitude towards bugs, I must confess this veneer might crack spectacularly if I see a bull ant crawling up my leg. (Has anyone ever written a picture book about bull ants? I don’t think I could bring myself to read it.) But here are three books about pesky insects which are, weirdly, thoroughly enjoyable.
Australia is blessedly free of European wasps, that enemy of outdoor fun. But anyone who has met even one will appreciate the horror of John Vernon Lord’s vision of an episode when “Four millions wasps flew into town.” In The Giant Jam Sandwich (Penguin) the enterprising inhabitants of Itching Down, devise and bake the ultimate lure and trap for the wasps. The scale of the task is brilliantly drawn by Lord and described in the verses by Janet Burroway – it takes six flying machines to drop the enormous top slice of the sandwich to trap the wasps. The brilliant @jojobotte recommended this back in the day. I cannot count the number of times we’ve read it and I never mind another read.
Who would expect to be charmed by a house fly? In The Fly (Walker Books), writer-illustrator Petr Horacek manages this tricky feat by giving voice to one, taking us through its average day which involves annoying cows and plenty of dodging a big blue fly swat. It’s ingeniously designed. When the fly alights on a boy’s forehead the page becomes the fly swat and… “FLAP”, he swats himself in the face. It is hard not to feel rather mean when you close the book on the poor fly at the end.
Mr McGee and the Biting Flea (Penguin) by legendary NZ picture book creator Pamela Allen is a hilarious tale of torture by insect. The hatted and moustachioed Mr McGee goes out to fly his kite, when a flea from a passing dog jumps on to him. The bouncy, alliterative, rhyming text is a scream to read – quite literally, if you really want to give Mr McGee’s “OOOOOO! OWWWWW! EEEEEE!” some welly. For all his contortions, the only way Mr McGee can get rid of the flea is by casting every stitch of clothing off and leaping into the sea.
…And I have not not seen it yet, but would love to read Chris McKimmie’s recent book Colin Cockroach Goes to Caloundra (Ford St Publishing) about a roach which evades poisoning by stowing away on holiday.