Children's Review: Wicked Bugs: The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth

Wicked Bugs is not for the faint of heart. Author/bookseller Amy Stewart's (Lady Cop Makes Trouble) young readers edition of her adult nonfiction title featuring insects, spiders, worms and other creepy-crawlies is sure to thrill budding entomologists, but may leave others feeling mysterious prickles on their skin. Briony Morrow-Cribbs's supplemental illustrations throughout enhance the sinister nature of these creatures, giving the book a powerful gross factor--perfect for the middle grade target audience.

Wicked Bugs is divided into six categories of vicious vermin: Deadly Creatures, Everyday Dangers, Unwelcome Invaders, Destructive Pests, Serious Pains and Terrible Threats. Within each category readers will discover specific species discussed with spine-tingling details and amazing facts: e.g., cockroaches will consume a wide variety of human waste ("they will even chew on bookbindings and the paste on stamps") and there are well-documented cases of cockroaches "crawling into people's ears and getting stuck there." Stewart manages to slip in history lessons with tidbits about sand fleas torturing Christopher Columbus's crew and termites exacerbating Hurricane Katrina's destruction of New Orleans. Wicked Bugs is the entomophobe's version of a car wreck: Stewart has compiled such interesting information on otherwise repellent critters that readers can't help but keep turning the pages in anticipation of what will come next.

The end of each category is a themed chapter rather than a highlight of one specific bug. Stewart covers parasitic worms that invade the human body, insects that feed on corpses and even zombies. "The insect world has its own version of The Walking Dead. These bugs don't just eat other bugs--they actually inhabit them and force them to do harm on their behalf."

Marching across the pages of each chapter are Morrow-Cribbs's realistic illustrations, complete with texture and depth. The lifelike appearances evoke double takes to ensure they're drawings and not unexpected guests settling in to read along; Cribbs's illustrations paired with Stewart's text will certainly elicit delighted squeals of "ewww" and "yuck."

Middle grade readers will be mesmerized by the terrors and disturbing behaviors of Stewart's collection of wicked bugs. Who needs frogs and snakes when there are so many fascinating (read: disgusting) insects? However, another side effect may result from reading this book: cleanliness. Neglecting to properly wash food, leaving trash around and other unsanitary behaviors are held up as causes of terrifying problems, like that of the Arizona woman doctors wheeled into brain surgery. "With her skull open and her brain exposed, the surgeon started laughing. He was relieved to find out that, rather than an intractable tumor, the woman had been suffering from tapeworms."  

This accessible, middle-grade version of Wicked Bugs combines science, anthropology and history with a powerful yuck-factor. It's sure to be a hit with even the most reluctant readers--just be prepared for some serious goose bumps and skin tingles along the way. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Shelf Talker: In a young readers' edition of the bestselling adult book, creepy crawlies from around the world show off their meanest, deadliest, grossest characteristics and behaviors.

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