Friday, April 13, 2012

The Bug Next Door

Story & art by Beatrice Alemagna
Phaidon, 2012 (Release date: April 15)
$12.95, ages 3 +, 40 pages.

Little Speckled Bug is in a muddle over why he's so fond of the new girl bug next door.

Of course she's cute and that's not hard to like about her.

Those long red antennae drape around her face like silken threads and when she dances, her forelegs do two different ballet positions at once.

(The top ones take first position like petals of a flower bud and the middle ones curve into fifth as if she were hugging the air itself.)

But beyond liking how Bug Next Door looks and moves, what have they between them?

After all, from the day Bug Next Door knocked on his door, the two have had one misstep after another.

Well, except that one time. When she kissed him good-day. Both of their two cheeks streaked pink like an apple blossom.

Now that was nice.

But what about all the stuff that came before that?

In this adorable followup to Bugs in a Blanket and Bugs in the Garden, Beatrice Alemagna returns to the world of her felted bugs to explore the ways of the heart -- how sometimes what makes us different makes us hard to resist.

This time, a scrappy boy bug with a rainbow patchwork body meets a cocoa-brown and cream girl bug who flits about with a grace he's never known and makes him want to do things he would never have done before.

The two are neighbors and at first seem like world's (or should we say, "blanket's") apart. Little Speckled Bug is all boy and Bug Next Door, all girl, and neither seems willing to bend at all to what the other wants to do.

First, with a bluntness that hides her true interest in him, Bug Next Door refuses even a bite of his dust sandwich. "Yuck," she tells him, when he offers to share. (She prefers crumb salad.)

Then Bug Next Door suggests they dress up as flower fairies. But there's no way Little Speckled Bug is going to put on a dress -- not a rough-and-tumble boy like him.

So, Little Speckled Bug pulls out all of the snippets of things he's collected and he's really proud of. Bits of string, used stamps, broken button wheels and best of all, found insect legs.

But to Bug Next Door, the collection is strange, not at all interesting like hers with its ribbon bows, seven different samples of nail polish and golden flower petals.

So they decide to play a game instead, only now Bug Next Door doesn't like Little Speckled Bug's game. Little Speckled Bug wants to run around a big hole in the blanket shouting "Fire! Fire!" and get everyone in a tizzy.

"That's a stupid game," Bug Next Door says. She suggests she teach him steps from a dragon fly dance. Only Bug Next Door gets so enthralled in leaping about that she forgets to explain the dance to Little Speckled Bug.

Not that Little Speckled Bug says anything to remind her. He just watches, admiring her as she flaps her imaginary wings and thinks to himself how strange it is that they like such different things.

"When I jump around I like to stamp my feet as hard as possible," he says to himself, though what he's really thinking most about is how lovely she looks leaping in front of him.

Could it be that he actually likes how different she is? Maybe, but it might take something delicate and sweet landing on his cheek before he's sure.

Italian-born French artist Alemagna once again makes bugs living in blankets, bed bugs if you will, something we want to snuggle with rather than scrub out.

Long-limbed with big noses, every bug is adorably awkward and oddly graceful.

Each walks upright on their hind two legs and gestures using their front four, all swinging joyfully together or serving different purposes at once and yet cooperatively.

The bugs are felted onto radiant dyed wool backgrounds of pear-green, rose-pink or topaz, and are named very simply, for what they look like or where they live.

On one page, a bug might be in a bed embroidered from snippets of flannel and lace, or by a miniature bureau with button knobs. Or, it might be surrounded in sequins to give its movement added sparkle.

Crisp though the pages of this book (and the previous two) are, they look soft to the touch, and if you're like me you'll feel an irrational urge to squeeze the paper in your hands and caress it up to your cheek.

Who would have thought we'd ever wish that bugs really did hide in our covers?

Well, maybe just the smiling, no-biting kind.

For more on Alemagna's art, visit her website here.

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