Darkus is miserable. His dad has disappeared, and now he is living next door to the most disgusting neighbours ever.
A giant beetle called Baxter comes to his rescue. But can the two solve the mystery of his dad’s disappearance, especially when links emerge to cruel Lucretia Cutter and her penchant for beetle jewellery? A coffee-mug mountain, home to a million insects, could provide the answer – if Darkus and Baxter are brave enough to find it …
1. The Beetles
Forget the Fab Four*, this is more the fab four hundred thousand, as M.G. Leonard's debut, Beetle Boy, is overflowing with brilliant, benevolent beetles. Not since the hugely entertaining Joe's Apartment have so many incredible insects been used as a force for good in a fight against dastardly villains. I think M.G. Leonard must have had great fun researching this book: there are all kinds of species of cool and crazy Coleoptera, each bringing their own talents to help Darkus Cuttle fight the evil Lucretia Cutter and her minions. It's great to see insects as the good guys in a story!
One of the reasons I love middle grade stories is the strong themes of friendship that many of them contain. Whether it's classics like Swallows and Amazons and The Famous Five, or more contemporary stories like the Harry Potter series and Robon Stevens' Wells & Wong Mysteries, friendship in stories is important for young readers. It helps kids understand that working with others towards a common goal is important, even if it isn't always easy, and how fun, happiness and strength can come from sharing with others. The friendships in Beetle Boy are both conventional (starting at a new school, Darkus makes friends with Virginia and Bertolt) and unconventional (boy makes friends with beetle).
3. The villains
Everybody loves a 'good' villain, and Beetle Boy has no shortage of them. From the truly heinous and inhuman Lucretia Cuttle to Darkus's bizarre odd-couple neighbours, Pickering and Humphrey and their somewhat unsanitary living habits, the villains in this story have just the right level of over-the-top-ness to make them easy to dislike and entertaining, without ever entering pantomime territory.
Beetle Boy isn't released until the beginning of March, so make note of this now and either pre-order it or set a reminder on your smart phone, as this is already a hot contender for my 2016 Books of the Year list. My thanks go to the fab people at Chicken House for sending me a copy of this little beauty.
*(yes, yes, I know they spelt their name differently)