At first glance, Ladybug Girl doesn’t appear to be the most original of heroines. She’s pictured on the book’s cover in the same frilly-stiff red tutu that two of my daughters wore last halloween, cloned by half the girls in San Francisco; the other half dressed up as butterflies or fairies, only differenciated by tutu/ wing coloring. (Though now, I hope my third daughter shows the same obsession because the costumes cost me $60 each.)
But there is something special about this Ladybug girl. First, full disclosure, my standard bias: as I mentioned in my Princess Hyacinth review– as a brown-eyed, brown haired kid, reading obsessed and deluged with golden haired blue eyed beauties, I give extra originality points for the, still rare, kids’ heroines with alternative coloring.
But there’s something truly wonderful about this story, and something that I never thought of before. This book shows that a girl’s obsession with ladybugs (and by proxy, butterlies) though packaged in the mainstream world as a gender stereotyped attraction to patterns and colors–is, at its heart, a love for bugs, for the outdoors and the creatures of the earth.
Ladybug Girl wanders around her backyard (another great thing about this book is it shows how our overscheduled kids handle free time; one of my favorite scenes shows Ladybug Girl, before making her decision to go outdoors, in her room overflowing with toys, frowning, arms crossed, saying, “There’s nothing to do.”) When Ladybug Girl is playing outside with her dog, she gets muddy and wet, splashing in shark-infested puddles, spying on other creatures including her big brother, buiding stone forts, and rescuing bugs.
Reading Ladybug Girl reminded me of my daughters, and the many ways they have shown me their fascination with bugs and insects (and tiny frogs–ugh) and how it’s not an interest I’ve ever encouraged or reinforced with toys, games or my own excitement– except by buying them silly frilly costumes.
I’ve often discovered Lucy and Alice quietly spying on long-legged spiders they find in the bath or mesmerized by fuzzy, slow-moving bumble bees flying low in our backyard. And their favorite thing to do, every time we leave the neighborhood park, is to visit the “ant tree,” where a trail of ants march up and down the trunk. The girls each let an ant crawl onto their finger, and then they literally love that ant to death. Then they cry and ask me to bring it back to life.
I’ve never once bought the girls the ant homes marketed to little boys, or insect puzzles, or rented A Bug’s Life, or asked them if they wanted to go dig for potato bugs when we had nothing to do–even after Lucy brought one home from school in a tiny cardboard box complete with a bed and play area.
Reading this story about a bored girl freely playing outside and getting dirty made me think of how many times I’ve warned my daughters not to get messy, as if it were the most horrible thing in world. I’m thinking, of course, that I’ll have to wash their clothing or they’ll track mud through the house. But Ladybug Girl taught me to mellow out and not get so worked up. (I’m not even a neat freak– far from it, and it was still hard for me to let it go) We have a backyard, always in flux, always muddy; there’s a hill they call a mountain they love to climb and dig around in. Now I just let them, stopped worrying so much about them fallling (into what? more mud) Now they climb and explore far more bravely, both at home and in parks. They ask me to take them on hikes.
I also hope that letting then get messy when they play outside, and really acting like it’s no big deal takes back some emphasis from the frequent visual reaction they get: “What a beautiful dress you are wearing!” They love to get special attention for anything, of course, but hopefully exploring and getting dirty can be more fun than even that.
A final cool thing about the book– and I think this is the author’s winking about the generic costume featured on the cover: the illustrations on both the front and back inside covers show Ladybug Girl is in a variety of costumes including a pirate, ballerina, witch, movie star, artist, astronaut, unicorn, pilot etc; the point being, of course, girls can be anything. I’d love to get a blow this up and frame it. ***GG***
(P.S. The extra ladybugs in the photo are pistcachio half-shells Lucy painted for a math counting school project)