Blogmas 2019 · Guest Post

Blogmas: Merry Bug-mas from Author Emma Read.

Blogmas: Merry Bug-mas from Author Emma Read. 

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As autumn comes to a close and spider season is done, we might be ready to forget about mini-beasts and think more about Christmas feasts.

But as a bug lover (and author of Milton the Mighty) I’m here to share a few interesting facts about some of my favourite creepy-crawlies and wishing you all a happy holiday and bee-sons greetings. No bah! Hum-bugs I hope.

 

The Little Things That Matter

 

Making up 97 percent of all animal species on earth, invertebrates are, according to ecologist E. O. Wilson, “the little things that run the Earth.” Though small, their ecological importance is huge – we rely on invertebrates to pollinate flowering plants, consume pests, recycle and compost waste and turn over the soil. Without them our whole ecological system would rapidly collapse.

There are so many wonderful ‘little’ things we can do to help the environment in 2020, and with invertebrates in mind, perhaps you might consider a New Year’s resolution to love bugs a little bit more? Here’s a song to get you in the mood while you wait for Ant-a-Claus.

The Twelve Bugs of Christmas, by the Invertebrettes

 

12 Tansy beetles – These pretty beetles have iridescent elytra which the Victorians used to wear as jewellery. They are now on the endangered listbugmas 1

 

11 Furry bumblebees – Dumbledore was named for the Old English word for bumblebees!

 

10 Tortoiseshell butterflies – Also endangered, but on the increase thanks to greater awareness and public support

 

9 Leopard slugs – What’s to love about slugs? They are the great recyclers of the garden, disposing of decaying organic matter. They are also a favourite food of hedgehogs, which are in severe decline in the UK

 

8 Chirping cicadas – Although thriving in Europe, the cicada may already be extinct in the UK

 

7 Seven-spot ladybirds – Known colloquially as bishy-barny-bees and dowdy cows, ladybirds are often favourites in the insect world. Contrary to all the ladybird juice drunk by the spiders in Milton the Mighty, ladybird blood is actually toxic to most would-be predatorsbugmas 2

 

6 Ladybird spiders– Possibly even more beautiful than actual ladybirds, this spider was thought to be extinct for over seventy years. Rediscovered in the 1980s this species is now protected.

 

5 Yellow jacket wasps – Yes, they’re a pain at picnics, but wasps are actually one of our most important pollinators and pest controllers, particularly partial to aphids

 

4 Stag beetles – Their population is not known but they are considered endangered. Members of the public are encouraged to report any sightings to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species

 

3 Common centipedes – Another super pest controller and friend to the gardener, centipedes are one of the oldest animals on Earth, some have been found in fossils dating over 400 million years old

 

bugmas 32 Painted lady butterflies, in a butterfly kit – this is a lovely way to encourage children to care for invertebrates and learn about the wonders of nature. Ladybird breeding kits are also available

 

1 And a false widow on the Christmas tree. Much maligned, the false widow is neither deadly, nor invading. They’ve been here since the nineteenth century and are super pest controllers. If you’re not convinced maybe Milton the Mighty might be able to help!

 

Resources:

 

https://wildearthguardians.org

 

https://www.buglife.org.uk/

 

https://www.theschoolrun.com/homework-help/spiders

 

 

About the Author

 

Emma Read is the author of Milton the Mighty (Chicken House), which was one of The Times’s Best Children’s Books of 2019. MILTON is a story for younger readers about finding courage, good friends, and doing amazing things – even if you’re a spider the size of a raisin! Emma lives in Bath, and never sweeps up cobwebs. The sequel to Milton the Mighty, Milton the Megastar is available for pre-order here: https://www.waterstones.com/book/milton-the-megastar/emma-read/9781912626069

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Milton The Mighty by Emma Read

Review: Milton The Mighty by Emma Read

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Extract:

‘You and me, Mr Macey. Together we’ll clear this house of invaders.’ 

‘So, you’ll kill them?’

Felicity smoothed down her corduroy skirt.

‘Every. Last. One.’ 

At this point, Milton stopped having thoughts altogether. He went cross-eyed, eight different ways, and fainted.

(Milton The Mighty by Emma Read. P30.)

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Synopsis:

When spider Milton discovers he has been branded deadly by a popular internet story, he realises his life is in peril. His house human has a phobia of spiders and will go to any length to destroy them, which makes him an easy target for Felicity Thrubwell whose pest control business thrives on fear.

Milton’s only hope is to prove he is not a deadly spider. Luckily he has help. Milton’s eight-legged friends are on board, and so is the younger human Zoe. Together they set out to straighten out the facts.

But will that be enough to stop Felicity Thrubwell?

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Review:

A story about a little spider with a big heart. Milton’s quest to clear his name and save spider-kind is the sort of animal tale I loved when I was small. Dick King-Smith was one of my favourite childhood authors, and this reminds me of his work. It has the same mix of charm and resilient characters, with up to date technology.

Milton’s campaign for justice is balanced with a whole load of creepy crawly fun.

The theme couldn’t be more relevant to our times. Milton has always had trouble from some humans, but a piece of viral internet content turns the whole world against him. And it’s just not true. Milton isn’t a killer spider. Emma Read resists an anti-internet stance. Instead the book shows that the internet can be used for good or bad and that we must trust our own judgement and knowledge.

Zoe is a wonderful character. She’s having trouble at school because she just refuses to cave into the anti-spider hype. She knows better. It is good to see a role model who sticks to her principles and is determined to make a change. Like Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist who has turned heads and opinions, Zoe knows that making a change isn’t about being big or special. It’s about being unafraid to get your message out.

This is also a book about friendship and the power of changing our habits. Fears and actions can be ingrained. It takes kindness and understanding – not anger – to help people change their ways.

A fantastic story with two heroes (a spider and a girl) whose resilience, determination and kindness make them perfect role-models to us all.

 

Thanks to Chicken House Books for my gifted copy. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Q&A with Emma Read, Author of ‘Milton The Mighty’.

Q&A with Emma Read, Author of ‘Milton The Mighty’.

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About Milton The Mighty 

Milton is a little spider with a big problem. 

When a piece of viral internet content names Milton as a killer, his life is in danger. This is not helped by his house human’s phobia, nor with the arrival of Felicity Thrubwell and her plans to annihilate spider-kind. 

Helped by his eight-legged friends and young human friend Zoe, Milton begins a campaign to clear his name. 

Milton The Mighty is filled with humour, determination and creepy-crawly fun. My full review will be available on Monday 3rd June 2019, but suffice it to say I loved the book. A lot. The characters learn that even the smallest of us can make a big difference. It reminded me of the books which were my very favourite as a child. 

I was delighted when Emma Read agreed to take part in a Q&A. Her answers offer a wonderful insight into the inspiration for her story, and the ways in which it grew as she wrote. Thank you, Emma, for your time. 

 

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Q&A with author Emma Read:

 

You wrote about something you’re scared of. Why did you do that?

That is a very good question and one I asked myself a lot as I was researching spiders from behind a cushion! I was originally pondering unwanted fame, such as being misrepresented on social media, or in the press. Once I’d created the character of Milton I fell in love with him and felt compelled to tell his story, despite his leggy-ness!

 

Did your feelings change as you wrote?

They really did. The more I learned about spiders, their incredible skills and beauty, I grew to love them. They are vitally important to our ecosystems and, besides having an intrinsic right to exist, they have the potential to improve human lives too. They really are teeny super-heroes!

 

Milton’s trouble begins with a piece of viral web content. Milton and Zoe also use the internet to help with their campaign? Why did you decide to include the human web in a story about spiders?

Web puns aside (although they do come in handy!) I wanted to help young children begin to understand that the internet is a powerful tool which can be used for right or wrong, depending on the user. So there’s a cautionary tale in there, amongst the humour and action! Also, Milton and Zoe have a message to share and what better way to do that than making connections, just like a spider-web.

 

Felicity Thrubwell’s vendetta against spiders is partly the result of a bad childhood experience. How do you think bad experiences can shape our behaviours?

Experience is how we learn – in childhood it shapes our brain, influencing the adults we become. It’s a huge subject! Animal phobias are apparently common following a negative experience as a child, and do affect behaviour. As a full-blown arachnophobe I would check the room before going to sleep, and simply not sleep in a room where I had seen spider.

 

What are your favourite facts about spiders?

I have loads! But here are three which are pretty cool: Spiders have blue blood; spiders live in every habitat on earth, except Antarctica; the average web of a garden spider contains about 30 metres of silk – that’s as long as a blue whale!

 

I first heard about Milton when you were shortlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel Award. How much did the story change between that time and publication and what were the major changes?

The first change was that Chicken House wanted more – hurray! The heart of the story remains, but Milton now faces additional peril at the hands of dastardly pest-controller, Felicity Thrubwell, a mishap with some rather naughty (and a just little bit deadly) cousins and a Spider-calla-friendship-istic-expi-arachnid-ocious finale! The manuscript which shortlisted for BCNA grew with the help of my amazing editors, from around 13K, ending up at roughly 30K. So there’s a lot more fun and excitement (and running and screaming!)

 

Zoe is ridiculed when she stands up for what she believes in. Do you have any thoughts for people who have experienced the same thing?

This element of Zoe’s story was inspired by a young Canadian called Sophia Spencer, who was bullied at school for liking bugs. She went on to co-author a paper in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America after support for her went viral on social media. It can be so hard to be different, especially when you’re young – I know, I yielded to peer-pressure when I was a child and gave myself a phobia of spiders that lasted decades. But what I say to my kids is: ‘If someone wants you to change you to suit them, and it feels wrong, then it probably is. Speak your own truth – whether you do it loudly or quietly, is up to you’.