Read all about the brilliant new guide to beetles, and find out how to win your own copy
M.G. Leonard is the author of the bestselling Beetle Trilogy. The Beetle Boy novels follows Darkus Cuttle as he tries to solve the mystery of his father’s disappearance and meets a colourful cast of unusual beetles along the way. Darkus learns about his new beetle friends with the Beetle Collector’s Handbook passed down by his father, and now the essential companion for would-be coleopterists has been brought to life.
We spoke to M.G. Leonard about the new book and all things beetle:
What was the inspiration for the Beetle Trilogy and the new handbook?
I was writing a short story that had creepy crawlies in it, and Googled ‘beetle’ because I wanted to describe one accurately. I landed on the Wikipedia page and was shocked by how little I knew about beetles and how jaw-dropping-ly awesome they are. They are like insect superheroes with skills and costumes. I knew immediately that I had to write a story that showed off how incredible these creatures are, particularly because they are so important in the ecosystem. I decided to write a gripping adventure for children full of great characters, dire villains and fantastic beetles. I always knew that I wanted my hero – Darkus – to start off knowing nothing about beetles, but over the course of the story to become an expert. That information was going to have to come from experience and a very special book. I am beyond delighted that I have got to write that special book. It is, of course, The Beetle Collector’s Handbook.
Do you think insects have an unfair reputation or get overlooked? Did writing the books change your perception of them?
If you watch a movie or a tv programme, or read a book, you will notice that if you a large number of insects appear it usually means something bad. It means something is scary, or a person is weird and dirty, or evil. If you see thousands of insects it might mean the end of the world is coming or that aliens have landed. I can’t think of any stories where lots of insects is a joyous wonderful thing… well, except for mine. This is not a good trend, because if the world were a sterile place – like the world in the Teletubbies or In The Night Garden – with no insects, then the truth would be that it would be dying, and we would die too. We need insects and we need stories that celebrate them. I famously began writing Beetle Boy as a person scared of bugs, but through learning and writing about beetles, and seeing their beauty, I’ve become their number one fan.
Do you have a favourite beetle species or fact? Is there a beetle you’d be happy to never meet?
Choosing a favourite beetle is tough because there are so many cool ones. I think the rhinoceros beetle has character which is why I made him the hero beetle of my trilogy. They are impressive looking creatures, the size of small birds, but have superhero levels of strength. Did you know a rhinoceros beetle can lift 850 times its own body weight? That would be like me being able to lift four double-decker busses! I also love the bombardier beetle as it shoots boiling acid out of its bottom at predators, but I’d rather not be a victim of its burns so am happy that I haven’t met it.
What do you hope children (and their adults!) will take away from the books?
One in every four living things on this planet is a beetle. Once you begin discovering how amazing beetles are, it’s hard to stop. I’m hoping The Beetle Collector’s Handbook will be an entertaining and delightful introduction to some of the coolest and freakiest beetles out there, the first footsteps on a path to a better relationship with the little things that run the world.
How important do you believe it is to get children interested in insects and the natural world?
It is essential to share the wonder of the natural world with children, because more and more we put ourselves at a distance from it and yet we are part of it. How can we understand who we are without considering our relationship with the other creatures we share this planet with and how will anyone protect the natural world if they don’t have a relationship with it? The wonderful thing about insects is that you’ll find at least fifty different species of creature in your own garden or local park. You don’t need to go to a zoo to see incredible creatures; they are all around us.
The Beetle Collector’s Handbook (published by Scholastic) hits bookshops on the 6th September. To learn more, check out M.G. Leonard’s website.