Elise Gravel’s The Bug Club is about insects — anything tiny that creeps, flies, bites, buzzes or generally weirds people out.
At the same time she’s teaching juvenile readers about creepy crawlies, the Montreal artist-illustrator has another message for kids, which I have to believe is a valuable one: It’s OK to be different. It’s fine to like strange things. You’re not awful if you don’t conform.
Right off the bat, Gravel admits she, herself, is a weirdo. “Unlike many grownups, I love bugs. Let me tell you a bit about why I find them so interesting,” she writes in her graphic novel.
Gravel throws out some pretty amazing factoids. For instance, did you know the Hercules beetle can grow to 6.7 inches (17 centimetres) long? Did you know a praying mantis can eat small birds? Did you know giraffe weevils even exist?
In her discussion of different insect species, Gravel first tackles common bugs, then goes into less common ones, then finishes with some fanciful critters that exist only in her imagination
By providing a two-page spread of imaginary bugs at the end of the book — including the red-winged sublimitus, the furry wigwig, the bapnut and the frilly guk — Gravel teaches a valuable lesson in imagination, which can only help in the development of a young reader’s empathy.
(If there’s any justice in this world, some entomologist will name a bug after one of Gravel’s make-believe creatures, or after Gravel herself.)
Throughout, the Quebec comic creator preaches a message of self-acceptance. She concedes at one point in the slender volume that she doesn’t “draw very realistic insects.” Later on, she states: “I sometimes have weird tastes.”
The Bug Club might seem like frivolous summer fun, but it’s an important book because the underlying message for kids is they should be unafraid to let their freak flag fly. Or, as it said on a bumper sticker that was popular when I was a young geek in the 1970s, “Why be normal?”