Today we welcome New York Times bestselling author Amy Stewart and we are giving away a copy of her new book for middle-grade readers, Wicked Bugs: The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth (Algonquin Books 2017).
Amy Stewart is the award-winning author of six books on the perils and pleasures of the natural world, including four New York Times bestsellers The Drunken Botanist, Wicked Bugs, Wicked Plants, and Flower Confidential. She is also the author of the Kopp Sisters series. Stewart and her husband own Eureka Books in Eureka, California. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the American Horticulture Society’s Book Award, and an International Association of Culinary Professionals Food Writing Award.
Illustrator Briony Morrow-Cribbs studied art at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, British Columbia, and currently lives in Brattleboro, Vermont, where she owns and operates Twin Vixen Press.
About Wicked Bugs Young Readers Edition: The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth (Algonquin Books 2017):
Did you know there are zombie bugs that not only eat other bugs but also inhabit and control their bodies? There’s even a wasp that delivers a perfectly-placed sting in a cockroach’s brain and then leads the roach around by its antennae — like a dog on a leash. Scorpions glow in ultraviolet light. Lots of bugs dine on corpses. And if you want to know how much it hurts to get stung by a bullet ant (hint: it really, really hurts), you can consult the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. It ranks the pain produced by ants and other stinging creatures. How does it work? Dr. Schmidt, the scientist who created it, voluntarily subjected himself to the stings of 150 species.
Organized into thematic categories (Everyday Dangers, Unwelcome Invaders, Destructive Pests, and Terrible Threats) and featuring full-color illustrations by Briony Morrow-Cribbs, Wicked Bugs is an educational and creepy-cool guide to the worst of the worst of insects, arachnids, and other arthropods. This is the young readers adaptation of Amy Stewart’s bestselling book for adult readers.
Wicked Bugs is the sequel to Wicked Plants, a book I wrote in 2009 about deadly, dangerous, offensive, illegal, and otherwise horrible plants that have affected humans–mostly for the worst. It was my way of looking at the dark side of the plant world, and telling rather bone-chilling stories that don’t often get told about the surprisingly powerful world of plants!
Wicked Bugs seemed like a natural follow-up. In fact, as I was researching Wicked Plants, I kept running across interesting stories about venom, insect-transmitted diseases, and so forth in the medical literature. I just started keeping a list, and pretty soon, I had another collection of stories.
The irony is that people are very trusting of plants, assuming that anything green that grows out of the ground is all natural and therefore good for you. But I had no trouble rounding up a list of truly terrifying plants. Plants can’t run away and hide from predators, so they fight back in ways that can really inflict a lot of pain and suffering.
For Wicked Bugs, on the other hand, I actually had a hard time coming up with a list of insects, spiders, and so forth that we actually should worry about. People are generally far more terrified of bugs than plants, but in fact, I had trouble filling a book with actually “wicked” bugs!
In your introduction, you discuss your use of the word “bug.” Can you tell our readers about it? How did you choose which critters to include?
Entomologists will be quick to point out that they use the word “bug” to refer to a specific type of insect with piercing and sucking mouthparts. An aphid, therefore, is a “bug,” but an ant is not. This book covers all manner of slithering, creeping, and crawling creatures, from insects to spiders to worms. In that sense, I’m using the word “bug” in the more ancient sense, dating back to the 1620s, when it was used to refer to any sort of little insect-like creature.
How did you approach research for the book?
I interviewed toxicologists, physicians, and entomologists. I read a lot of medical and scientific journals, scoured old newspapers, and did original, primary research to try to debunk myths and avoid repeating old, false information. Although this looks like a small, light-hearted book, I do quite a bit of research. For instance, I would never repeat a fact from a modern book along the lines of “the ancient Greeks used wasps for warfare.” I’d need to trace that to the source–and I don’t just mean a more authoritative Greek scholar, I mean the original source text, which, fortunately, has probably been digitized and can be found in a research library somewhere in the world. I’ve hired translators to translate 500 year-old German texts and even Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Tell us about the decision to publish a young readers’ edition of your 2011 New York Times best seller for adults, Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects.
I do quite a lot of events around the country at science museums, botanical gardens, libraries, and so forth. At those events I will often meet teachers and parents who are really eager to find interesting science books for their kids and students. I confess that because I’m not a parent myself, I wasn’t aware of the changes that Common Core and other educational standards have brought to the classroom, but teachers and parents brought me up to date! They told me that literature and writing are being integrated into other subjects, like science and history. Because Wicked Bugs combines all of those things–science, history, and storytelling–it really fit the bill.
How does this middle grade version differ from the adult version?
We had the text professionally edited to fit the right age and grade level, and we removed just a little bit of “adult’ content. We also made it into a full-color edition by using hand-colored versions of Briony Morrow-Cribbs’ extraordinary copperplate etchings. As you might know, copper etchings were used to illustrate scientific books three hundred years ago. It’s almost a lost art today. But Briony took up the challenge, often working from real specimens at her university entomology department, wearing jeweler’s glasses to see every tiny detail.
If there was one single thing that you wanted young readers to get from Wicked Bugs, what would it be?
Honestly, I just want them to enjoy the book. I write for entertainment–to entertain myself, and to entertain readers.
Do you have plans for any other books for young readers?
I very much hope that my publisher will want to do Wicked Plants! There are other books about bugs out there for this age group, but it seems to me that botany is a very underserved subject for young readers. There’s a definite Harry Potter vibe to Wicked Plants–poisons and potions and so forth–but it’s also an engaging look at botany and a good way into the subject. If anybody out there thinks Wicked Plants would make a good next book, please send me your thoughts!
You have published both fiction and nonfiction. Do you have a preference? How does your writing process differ?
Right now I’m writing a series of novels (Girl Waits with Gun, Lady Cop Makes Trouble, and Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions) [for adults] based on the true story of one of America’s first female deputy sheriffs and her sisters.
It’s great because the research is really the same, but the writing is very free, because I can make things up if I have to. Also, I’m no longer writing in my own voice, and I do get tired of the sound of Amy Stewart in my head all the time. Now I’m writing in the voice of a woman who lived in the 1910s, and that’s a great challenge. There will be many more books in that series to come!
And now for the giveaway!