Anyone can make a pig character cute. Or a bunny. But a cockroach? Ah, this is the mastery of Janell Cannon!
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As the author/illustrator of Stellaluna , the story of a bat in search of family, and Verdi , the story of a snake, Cannon is no stranger to the creatures of the night. But a cockroach as the hero of a children's story? That's just creepy.
Cannon makes it work. She develops the character well. Crickwing, so named because of an unfortunate accident with a hungry toad, is a dynamic character who just wants to be loved, accepted, and left alone while he eats.
Crickwing likes to make sculptures with his food. Artistry of this caliber takes time, of coarse, so he is vulnerable to predators while he creates his edible concoctions. Sick of being bullied by the larger creatures, Crickwing resorts to bullying those smaller than he. Little does he realize that it is a grave mistake to mess with the leafcutter ants. I won't spoil the entire plot for you, but rest assured it is all ok in the end, and Crickwing learns a valuable lesson from his experiences. (After all, isn't this what children's literature is all about?)
The writing of the tale is exceptional. Cannon moves clearly through the plot, without many frills. She includes a few terms that younger readers (or listeners) might not be familiar with, like exoskeleton or truss (yep, as in trussed up like a pig). There are not so many new terms that would confuse, rather they serve as a great way to build vocabulary.
The artwork is captivating. The illustrations are vivid and semi-realistic. They are a wonderful complement to the story. (and not creepy at all). Crickwing looks more like a grasshopper than a cockroach (but as the end notes point out, there are over 4,000 species of cockroaches.)
The story can open up a few conversations as well, about bullying, being different, etc...
Stellaluna is similarly done (although much more melancholy). If you enjoy this book, it's worth a look at the bats. Also, there are subtle references to the book Play with your food by Joost Elffers, also a fun and enjoyable book.
So now we know, cockroaches don't have to be creepy. Who would have thought?
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