Wild Things

Kids love bugs. A review of insect-related children's books, toys and candy, by Andrea Gollin.

Published September 18, 1997 6:58PM (EDT)

OK, so maybe you've never heard a spider speak. Maybe your children
haven't either. But aside from that one small technicality, Charlotte is
all-arachnid, and that's got to be a big part of why E.B. White's
Charlotte's Web is the bestselling children's paperback book of all
time. Here's a tidbit you already know: Kids love bugs.

Charlotte is the real thing, the web-weaving, egg-laying,
creepy-crawling, dying deal. And that's the way White wanted it. He sent
his illustrator back to the drawing board after seeing the preliminary
sketches of a spider with a woman's face. "You better just draw a spider
and forget about a countenance," he wrote to Garth Williams (who also
drew everyone's favorite mouse, Stuart Little). Charlotte with a woman's
face? We don't think so. Neither, of course, did White, who spent a year
studying spiders before he even began the story. "My feelings about
animals is just the opposite of Disney's," White wrote. "He made them
dance to his tune and came up with some great creations, like Donald
Duck. I preferred to dance to their tune, and came up with Charlotte
and Wilbur." ($4.95 paperback; for ages 8 and up, HarperCollins)

So, where -- besides in White's pages -- can you find the creatures to
satisfy your offspring's bug lust? Your backyard, for starters. But
how about toys? You can start with that time-honored classic, the ant farm.
You may as well go to the original, which Milton Levine invented 40 years
ago. We're still not sure how he thought of this, but it has sold almost 15
million units to date, proof positive that when it comes to house guests of
the insect variety, people prefer to purchase -- not encounter -- the
critters. The Ant Farm is a clear plastic container filled with sand
that lets you see the ants in action. They dig. They crawl. They won't get
out because it's escape-proof and break-resistant. You can even connect it
to other ant farm habitants with Antway tubes. Which
means -- yes -- an Ant Farm Village. Other permutations include the mini
farm and the giant farm. ($11.20 for the classic Ant Farm; for ages 6
and up, Uncle Milton, 818-707-0800)

For those of you with that little issue that you're too
embarrassed to discuss with anyone, even with your friends in Salon's Table
Talk -- no, your child is not the only child in the universe who
eats bugs. And yes, he/she may grow out of it. Or he/she may not. But
whether it's a phase or a predilection, why not do what any accommodating,
concerned and sensitive parent would do: Give the poor dear some
FDA-approved insects. For example, the Cricket Lick-It is a
sugar-free, crème de menthe-flavored lollipop with a cricket nestled in the
center. Yes, a real cricket. Yum! Or consider a slab of Amber
InsectNside Candy with Real Scorpion.
This amber-colored hard candy
with a farm-raised scorpion inside is, of course, only for special
occasions. And for when your little darling's been overindulging and needs
to cut back on the sweets, there are Larvets, cute little packets of
calorie-free, flavored beetle larvae. ($5.95 for three Cricket Lick-Its;
$4.95 for Amber InsectNside Candy; $13.95 for 12 packets of Larvets; for
ages 7 and up, from Archie McPhee, 425-745-0711)

By Andrea Gollin

Andrea Gollin is a freelance writer living in Miami. Her children's summer book special continues next Thursday.

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