Coco is a big fan of little critters.
She is particularly fascinated by creepy crawlies and is always on the lookout for earthworms, snails, spiders and butterflies while on our walks around the neighbourhood.
Say whaaaaat? A girl who likes bugs, reptiles and molluscs?! Doesn’t she find them icky?
Not at all!
Contrary to the misconception that girls and creepy crawlies don’t go together, Coco finds these tiny creatures interesting and loves getting close to them – a little too close, sometimes, like when she placed her face on the floor, gaze glued on a cockroach, because I said to “keep an eye on it” while I ran to fetch the bug spray.
So it was a sad irony that, other than The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, we didn’t have a single book about her beloved bugs.
While the tale of Carle’s greedy little protagonist fired our imaginations and brilliantly weaved multiple concepts on counting, colours and days of the week into one simple storyline, I found it hard to explain to a two-year-old that caterpillars don’t really dig fruit and salami and sweets.
Recently, we were introduced to Maxilla by Lianne Ong. I immediately saw the similarities between Coco and the little boy in the story, who finds a caterpillar in the school garden. Reuben names his wriggly charge Maxilla and brings her home to be his pet, giving her grass for food – just like how Coco would painstakingly collect and present an array of leaves and grass to her leggy captive – only to have the caterpillar turn its nose up at all the menu offerings.
Noticing that Maxilla wasn’t eating, Reuben worriedly consults an entomologist on what to feed her.
Not only did the bug scientist omit any mention of Carle’s heady picnic selection of cake and ice-cream for Maxilla, the wise man identified her as a cabbage butterfly and advised Reuben to return Maxilla to her natural habitat so that she could find the right food.
Reuben is torn between keeping his beloved pet close to him and releasing her into the wild, where he fears for her safety. As much as he wants to nurture and care for her, he knows that Maxilla will not survive if kept in a box.
It’s a big dilemma for a little boy.
After a lot of pondering, Reuben makes a decision that he is happy with. (We’re not going to let you in on how the story ends, though!)
Maxilla is a story about love – and how the right decision is the one that stems from deep within.
Even though the book is designed for emerging readers aged 5 to 8 years old, younger children like Coco will be able to follow the simple tale, accompanied by beautiful illustrations, of the heart-warming relationship between a boy and a caterpillar.
Even if you’re not a fan of creepy crawlies, Maxilla is a lovely story that will worm its way into your heart.
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