When I was around eight years old, my mom brought home a leaf in a jam jar which was covered in butterfly eggs. At the time, we were reading Gerald Durrell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals’ together, and I think she was hoping to cultivate two mini-naturalists in the house.
Unfortunately, she overlooked our zeal for feeding the tiny caterpillars that emerged from the eggs. According to Eric Carle’s ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’, caterpillars thrive on a diet of fresh fruits and the occasional piece of chocolate cake. With that in mind, Becky and I collected a variety of leaves and stuffed them gleefully into the jam jar, watching with joy as the ravenous little caterpillars began munching away at the leaves.
Of course, the next day, all the poor little caterpillars were dead, poisoned by our toxic love!
Our mother, who until she saw our tearful little faces had no idea what we had done, told us that butterflies laid their eggs only on plants which bear leaves that are suitable for their caterpillars to eat.
Which brings me to the subject of today’s book review (courtesy of MPH Bookstore, who was kind enough to send me a copy to review): Maxilla by local author Lianne Ong.
Maxilla, is a story based on the true life experiences of Lianne and her son, Reuben, when they were living in the US. In this book, Reuben finds a green caterpillar at school and names it Maxilla (which, by the way, is the scientific term for the mouthparts of an arthropod – such an appropriate name for a very hungry caterpillar!). He takes Maxilla home, only to realise that he is unable to adequately care for the creature.
Reuben learns during the course of the story that love sometimes means relinquishing the things that are held most dear. This theme of sacrificial friendship is one that is also covered in other children’s storybooks like Laura’s Star by Klaus Baumgart and Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers, which are two of our favourites.
The book is beautifully illustrated by Lim Shing Ee, a Singaporean artist based in Japan and each page is covered with sweet sketches in colour pencil which adds to the innocent, childlike tone of the book. The pictures, coupled together with the handwritten font, make the whole book resemble a field journal or nature diary. It even has a few pages at the end of the book describing the life cycle of butterflies.
Unfortunately, the book does not include advice on how to observe or care for caterpillars in captivity but emphasises the maxim that children should leave wild creatures alone. This is something that I personally do not agree with, as I believe that a child’s curiosity about the natural world should be nurtured, albeit under parental guidance. A good book that promotes such responsible scientific study is Growing Frogs by Vivian French, where the development of frogs from spawn gathered from a local pond is keenly observed and recorded by a young girl under her mother’s supervision.
Additionally, I found that the handwritten font, although interesting and unique, seemed rather cramped and uneven. In certain places, the letters even seemed to run into each other which made it difficult for my son, an emergent reader, to decipher the words. An example of this is the word ‘Internet’ (see in the picture on the left) where the ‘e’ and ‘r’ are so close together that it looks like an ‘a’ at first glance.
The uneven lettering is also very distracting to the eye and can make a page of words appear jumbled and confused with some letters seeming to be emphasised more than others. You can see this most obviously in the ‘x’ in the name ‘Maxilla’ which is darker than the rest of the word, so that it looks like ‘Maxilla’.
For this reason, I would recommend this book as a ‘read aloud’ storybook, and is not suitable for dyslexic children or emergent readers.
However, I still think the book is definitely worth a read! The book did help J and Little E want to know more about butterflies and find out more how they grow and transform from caterpillars. It is most certainly a good book for introducing children to the natural world and showing them how they can learn more about the little creatures that they may meet in the park by doing their own research and by talking to experts.
Here is a brilliant web series about butterflies from Smarter Every Day which really easy to understand and fun to watch. J and Little E learned so much about butterflies and their life cycle.
I am also seriously considering taking the kids to Oh’ Farms to explore the Butterfly Lodge and they could even bring home one of the Oh’ Farms butterfly kits which come with instructions on how to care for caterpillars and nurture them to adulthood! Or we could even try and make our own butterfly kit at home.
Debs G rates Maxilla: One nice green leaf and no chocolate cake!
Maxilla retails at SGD$10.60 and is available worldwide at MPHonline.com, as well as at all major bookstores in Singapore (Kinokuniya, Times Bookstores and MPH Bookstores).
You can also nab a copy of Maxilla for yourself by taking part in this giveaway at Little Blue Bottle (closing date 6 March 2014)! (I’ll be adding more links to Maxilla giveaways next week, so do pop by for a peek!)
Update: More giveaways below –
- In the Wee Hours (Closing date 10 March 2014)
- Life is in the Small Things (Also, a butterfly kit giveaway! Closing date 12 March 2014)
If you would like to meet Lianne and have her autograph your own copy of Maxilla (and maybe catch a glimpse of little Reuben too), you can catch her at:
MPH Bookstores Parkway Parade at 1pm -2 pm on 15 March 2014 (Sat)
Woodlands Regional Library at 12noon – 1pm on 21 March 2014 (Fri)