The Gentleman Bug by J. Hector
Hector, Julian. The Gentleman Bug. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010. Print.
The Gentleman Bug is a charming book written and illustrated by Julian Hector and recommended for children aged 2 to 5. The story takes place in an urban, nineteenth-century locale called the Garden, which is inhabited by bugs, beetles and bees. The setting must be described as pan-European, since the Garden includes both Bugadilly Circus and something resembling the Moulin Rouge.
The Gentleman Bug is a bespectacled bibliophile, who teaches a small class of younger bugs from the Garden. He may not be a stylish dresser, but his students are as devoted to him as he is to them. The Gentleman Bug is opposed by a group of four rivals that includes such churlish figures as Boss Beetle and Mayer de Mothschild. These bully bugs poke fun at the Gentleman Bug for his bookish ways. He is content to ignore them until the day the Lady Bug arrives in the Garden. Alas, she is befriended by his rivals, and so the Gentleman Bug attends the Pollen Hill social club dressed to the nines in a bid to win her attention. An embarrassing mishap with a waiter dashes his plans, but the Lady Bug notices the book he drops (surely bringing a book to a formal event is the sign of a hopeless bookworm) and secretly invites him to the opening of a new building – which turns out to be the town library – where she introduces herself as the new librarian. The entire town has assembled to admire the new library, and even Boss Beetle & co. discovers a newfound love of books. Meanwhile, the Gentleman Bug and the Lady Bug become fast friends, reading together on picnics.
This is a book about the pleasures of reading and about finding friends who also enjoy reading: surely a fine message to deliver to budding young readers. The deeper lesson is that you will find true friends if you stay true to yourself and your true interests. When the Gentleman Bug's rivals are converted to reading, the book suggests that distractions will fall by the wayside when you find your purpose; either that or else that people who scoff at book lovers just haven't discovered what they are missing yet.
The story is told as much through the illustrations as the text. The text is generally brief and understated, while the illustrations contain the specifics of the plot. The interplay between text and image achieves soft, humorous effects: when the protagonist crashes into a waiter, the text reads: "the rest of the evening didn't go quite as planned." Because of the many clever details that the author has included in the illustrations, he clearly expects readers to stop, interpret the pictures, and then take up the text again. He has managed to differentiate a cast of ten named characters, primarily through the illustrations, with the assistance of a guide to the characters printed on the endpapers. All of this will increase the potential for repeat reads.
Although the protagonist is a gentleman bug, the book will appeal to female readers too, because the Lady Bug is a strong character and because girls and boys are portrayed as equals, both as readers and in gender roles. For example, the Gentleman Bug's students work together to sew him a suit. Likewise, it is refreshing to see that the Lady Bug is not overly feminized with long lashes or lipstick, for instance. The fact that she is a librarian might strike some as a cliché, but it does not seem out of place given the story, and the portrayal is free of the usual stereotypes of librarians. Finally, the book shows admirable restraint by eschewing a wedding bell ending, showing instead the beginning of a simple friendship between a gentleman and a lady.
Highly recommended: 4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: John Huck
John is a metadata and cataloguing librarian at the University of Alberta. He holds an undergraduate degree in English literature and maintains a special interest in the spoken word. He is also a classical musician and has sung semi-professionally for many years.