Give 'The Great Whipplethorp Bug Collection' A Buzz, You'll Bee Charmed
They haven't come yet, but I expect them any day.
Every time I step outside, I expect them. Every time I dig a hole, I expect them. Every time I inspect our cherry tree, I expect them.
The cicadas. Brood X, to be exact. The kind with the big red eyes and amber wings.
The alerts, dare I say warnings, began last fall. Prepare, prepare, the cicadas are coming, billions of them. Oh, I remember the last brood that emerged maybe seven years ago, and I can't say I remember it fondly. Long ago, when I was little, it was sort of thrilling to find a cicada casing still attached to a tree, but even as a child I was mainly freaked out. Now that I'm no longer little, I've gone from "mainly freaked out" to "fully freaked out." And yet, they are coming.
(Editor's note: They're here.)
You can even find a few in the pages of Ben Brashares' The Great Whipplethorp Bug Collection. There they are, big as life, enjoying a bug house custom made for them by Charles Van Velsor Whipplethorp V, also known as "Chuck."
Chuck, who seems to be about ten or 11, has moved to a new neighborhood. Chuck is stuck at home. Chuck wears a stocking cap in the middle of the summer. Chuck likes to sit upside down in chairs.
I liked Chuck from the beginning.
Chuck's dad, Charles Van Velsor Whipplethorp IV, aka Charlie, works from home. There he is on the sofa, unshaven and wearing slippers, hunched over his laptop, while Chuck pesters him.
"Dad? I'm bored."
Charlie reacts exactly as I would have done and suggests the best remedy for Chuck's boredom would be to start unpacking the moving boxes that are piled up all over the house. Chuck also reacts exactly the way any kid I know would react, which was with a groan and complete dismissal of the idea.
But summer days can be long, and parents have to work, and even spinning upside down in a swivel chair gets old after a while, so Chuck and his stocking cap decide to go ahead and unpack boxes. Well, probably luckily for Chuck and his dad, the very first box catches Chuck's attention. It contains Charles Van Velsor Whipplethorp III's childhood bug collection.
There it is, the Magicicada Septendecim: Brood X, big red eyes and all, lined up next to its Homoptera brethren (or sistren). Also present are many bugs with which I am very glad to not share a habitat, and many with which I unhappily do (I see you, stinkbugs), but are beautifully illustrated by Elizabeth Bergeland (the dragonfly wings alone are a triumph).
But this is not a book about bugs. This is a book about family and expectations and disappointment and finding one's own way, which is not easy when you are the fifth of anything.
And while Chuck may look like any other kid who wears a stocking cap in the summer, he is indeed the fifth Charles Van Velsor Whipplethorp to come down the pike, and the more he learns about the first (a soldier and mountain climber), the second (a navy admiral and oceanographer), and the third (famed entomologist and world traveler), the more he disappointed he is in the fourth (his dad, a data analyst, which Chuck finds extraordinarily boring), and the fifth (himself-a kid in a stocking cap). He worries that the great Whipplethorp men are "getting ... a lot less great." And that just won't do.
Still in his stocking cap, but now outfitted with snowshoes, flippers, rope, and who knows what else, Charles (Chuck is evidently not the name for great man), decides he is going to be the one to get back on the track to greatness. But it's not easy to find a mountain to climb on his street, and it's summertime, so there's no chance he can get frostbite like C.V.V.W I — and wouldn't you know it? Their new neighborhood is completely landlocked, so fighting an octopus like C.V.V.W. II is pretty much out of the question. It's looking like bugs or nothing for Chuck (no mountains or oceans = Chuck, not Charles).
Chuck has no trouble finding a bug, and after his initial disappointment at not discovering a new species, he decides his bug collection will be even greater than his grandfather's. But he has a problem.
Back on the page illustrating C.V.V.W III's bug collection, there are many, many bugs and labels and Latin words. But there are also pins. Lots and lots of pins.
But Chuck doesn't want to hurt bugs. Not even a little. It dawns on Chuck that he is not ruthless enough to create a bug collection like his grandfather's. His collection will have to be different. And to Chuck, different means bad.
Growing up is hard, finding yourself is hard, and realizing that being different is what makes you you is hard. It's certainly hard for Chuck, who is caught between being a little kid and a big kid, who is trying so hard to figure out what it means to be the fifth of something.
Yes, Chuck's life is different from C.V.V.Ws I through III, but what's different about it makes it good. His dad is not climbing a distant mountain or diving in some deep ocean, he's home with Chuck, even if that is a little boring sometimes. And the bug collection? Yes, that's different too, but it's Chuck's alone, no one else's. And that Whipplethorp greatness Chuck was so worried about? It wasn't going anywhere; it was just showing up in a different way.
I don't plan on collecting any cicadas, live or otherwise, for a bug collection, and I don't think my kids will be collecting them either (it's the small mercies). But they are coming, probably any day now. And when that day comes, I will do my best to embrace its difference and not just hide in the house. I'd really rather leave them all to Chuck.
Juanita Giles is the founder and executive director of the Virginia Children's Book Festival. She lives on a farm in Southern Virginia with her family.