The Good, The Bad and the Plain Just Wrong - Insects in Children's Literature

Simon Leather

West Midlands
Notice Period:
Regular (more than one month's notice)
13th November 2017
Children | Books | Entomology

Insects have appeared in books for children for at least 200 years, more if you count Aesop’s Fables. Using texts from the middle of the Nineteenth Century to the present day I compare the different approaches authors have adopted to portray insects, ranging from the anatomically correct, slightly anthropomorphised insects of van Bruyssel in his Population of the Old Pear Tree, through the anatomically correct but heavily anthropomorphised cricket in Pinocchio to the anatomically, biologically incorrect and highly anthropomorphised Anna Aphid.

I muse on the role of the illustrator, deliver a diatribe against those authors who demonise insects and conclude with why I, as an entomologist, consider Maya Leonard’s books to be worthy of praise from professional entomologists.

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About Simon Leather

My name is Simon Leather. I am an applied entomologist, but by that I don’t mean someone who can identify a huge number of species. I am not a taxonomist. Rather, I am a competent field entomologist who can recognise most insects to Order, some Orders to Family and within some families I am able to recognise individual species, especially if they are of economic importance. I fell in love with insects when I was a child in Jamaica, and discovered the complexity of ant societies, although I was also a great fan of crab spiders.

From the very beginning I was much more interested in how insects worked and behaved rather than in collecting and pinning them. My first degree from Leeds University, is in a subject that is no longer taught, Agricultural Zoology, essentially parasitology and entomology related to agriculture. It was at Leeds, in my second year, that I fell in love with aphids. My PhD at the University of East Anglia, was on the ecology of the bird-cherry-oat aphid Rhopalosiphum padi. I then did a post-doc, courtesy of the Royal Society, in Finland, developing a prediction system for R.padi, followed by a short post-doc back at UEA before a ten year stint with the Forestry Commission where I worked on the pine beauty moth, Panolis flammea and the large pine weevil, Hylobius abietis as well as doing advisory work and supervising research students. This was followed by twenty years at Imperial College, based at their Silwood Park campus where I worked on agricultural, horticultural and forest pests. I also conducted a twenty year study on the herbivores associated with sycamore trees and discovered the joy of urban ecology. I have been Professor of Entomology at Harper Adams University in Shropshire, since September 2012. For my full academic profile follow this link

I have been the Editor of EntoPath News, Antenna, and Ecological Entomology and am currently one of the Senior Editors of Insect Conservation & Diversity. I am also the Editor-in-Chief of Annals of Applied Biology and an Associate Editor of Agricultural & Forest Entomology, Ecological Entomology and until 2014, Journal of Animal Ecology. I have also written and edited a number of books that don’t make me a lot of money.

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