Many benign and useful insects, spiders and arthropods do exist in the world, but you will not find them in this adaptation of Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects for young readers. Local author Amy Stewart is intrigued by the dark side of the bug universe; the dangerous, destructive and sometimes downright macabre (see the chapter on zombies). The thing about bugs is that there are so many of them. As Stewart warns in the introduction, "We are seriously outnumbered." And many of their adaptations for survival are at serious cross purposes with ours.
Divided into wicked categories, each bug is given a page or two describing the harm they do. The stories are not abstractions — whenever possible dates, places and sometimes names are given of those who have had interactions with the species. There is an immediacy in learning that it was a family in North Carolina who discovered they had bats living in their attic. Once they had bat-proofed their home, they found they had a worse problem. The African bat bugs that also lived in the attic now came downstairs to feed on the blood of the humans. These fascinating and horrific stories beg to be read aloud and shared.
This kids' version is somewhat abridged but Stewart does not soften the content or dumb down the vocabulary. What she does do is provide context for terms and concepts that might be unfamiliar to a younger audience. The main difference is in the formatting to make the information more attractive and accessible. This is a very handsome book, as the illustrations by Briony Morrow-Cribbs are very detailed and lifelike copper plate etchings. (You can watch the process for creating the bugs in a YouTube video.) Each chapter begins with a four-color etching of the bug in question and smaller etchings are scattered throughout. The bugs seem to be skittering and sometimes falling off the page, as if they are trying to escape the confines of the book.
Despite the accuracy of the illustrations, Stewart is clear that this book is not designed to be used as an identification guide. There is a section in back that does suggest useful resources and an excellent bibliography lists titles for further research.
On Saturday, Aug. 5 during Arts Alive!, Eureka Books will host the official release of the book. Beginning at 6 p.m., Amy Stewart will be available to autograph books and talk to readers of all ages.