Interview with M.G. Leonard about Beetle Boy

M.G. LeonardM.G. Leonard is the author of the new ‘quirky, humorous adventure’ for kids, Beetle Boy. I blogged about Beetle Boy recently and my newfound interest in beetles from reading this fantastic book. Beetle Boy is one of those books that I can’t stop thinking about. I miss the characters and I really need to know what happens next.

I had some questions that I wanted to ask M.G. Leonard and she has very kindly answered them for me. Read on to find out what inspired her to write Beetle Boy, her favourite beetle, which beetle ability she would love to have, and why she loves writing for young people and the young at heart.

What inspired you to write Beetle Boy?

Growing up I was frightened of insects, and consequentially never knew much about them. One day I was trying to write a story and I wanted to describe creepy crawlies accurately, so I typed the word ‘beetle’ into Wikipedia, and was flabbergasted by what I discovered. I didn’t know that beetles flew, I didn’t know how good they were for the environment, how beautiful they can be, how they come in all shapes and sizes, and that they are actually the most successful creatures on the planet. All these revelations really sparked my imagination, and that was the inspiration for Beetle Boy.

What three words would you use to describe your story?

The first word would be ‘adventure’; the second would be ‘humorous’ and the third – ‘quirky’ – a quirky, humorous adventure!

What is your favourite type of beetle?

It’s hard to have a favourite beetle when there are over 350,000 known species. I have a very big soft spot for the Rhinoceros Beetle, because it’s such a cool, awesome friendly, wonderful creature. However, if I was to choose a pet beetle, I think I would pick a Rainbow Stag Beetle. Rainbow Stag Beetles are a perfect combination of beautiful and impressively strong.

If you could have one beetle-ability, what would you choose?

I think I would probably pick the ability of a Firefly. I would like to have a bioluminescence body that I could switch on and off, and control and flicker, and flash – I think that would be pretty cool, especially at a party!

Lucretia Cutter is one of the best, most evil villains I’ve come across in a children’s book – who is your favourite fictional villain?

There are so many great villains, but I have always been in awe of Jadis the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S Lewis. She is mesmerizing, fascinating and utterly terrifying.

I love the names of your characters. Craven and Dankish are great henchmen names. How do you cone up with character names?

There are lots of different ways I come up with character names. Whenever I’m passing through a graveyard I write down any unusual names that suggest a character to me. Novak is named after an Alexander McQueen handbag, which was named after Kim Novak the actress from The Birds. Virginia was named after Virginia Woolf, and her surname is Wallace, after Alfred Russell Wallace the celebrated British Naturalist. Bertolt is named after Bertolt Brecht, one of my favourite playwrights, and Darkus is named after the civil liberties campaigner and broadcaster Darcus Howe. I chose his surname ‘Cuttle’ because ‘Darkus’ and ‘Cuttle’ together, ‘Darkus Cuttle’, sounds like a beetle’s movement. Craven and Dankish are words that suggest villainous behavior; dark, maleficent and generally bad news!

What is the best part about writing for young people and the young at heart?

The best bit about writing is when I’m writing a scene that is particularly funny and I know it will make the reader laugh, or I’m describing something that they have never imagined before, or I’m taking them from something familiar into something completely new, or I’m making them catch their breath – really, the whole process of writing is pleasurable. Even though your reader isn’t present when you write, they are always in your mind, and everything you do is for them. The best part about writing Beetle Boy, has been young people’s responses to the story, and their newfound interest and passion for entomology and the natural world.

When you are not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

I love spending time with my family. I’m really into watching great films, reading books, sewing, walking along the seafront and gardening. But at the moment, I’m spending most of my time writing.

Thanks for joining us M.G.!  Now everyone needs to rush to the library and grab a copy of Beetle Boy. Check out my previous blog post, Beetle Boy – A mystery to really bug you, to read all about Beetle Boy and find some great books and eResources about beetles.

아주 파란가을에 시작하는 독서모임

올 가을은 유난히도 예쁜 가을입니다. 한국의 가을을 많이 닮았습니다. 파란하늘, 상큼한 바람 그리고 화려한 가을 옷으로 갈아 입은 나무들.  짙어가는 가을 냄새가 너무 좋아 바스락거리는 낙엽 위로 한 참을 걸었습니다.

Korean books
Korean books. Flickr 2016-04-k-book-image

Korean Book ClubUpper Riccarton 도서관에서 시작이 됩니다. 한 달에 한번 매달 둘째 월요일 11시에서 12시까지 입니다. 첫 모임은 5 월 9일입니다. 책이 좋고, 그 책을 좋아하는 사람들 누구나 환영합니다. 읽으신 책 , 읽고 싶은 책, 권하고 싶은 책 등등에 대한 이야기를 나누는 편안한 자리가 될 것입니다. 뿐만 아니라 OverDrive앱을 이용한 한국 전자책, Press Display에서 한국 신문을 읽는 방법 그외 다양한 eResource에 대한 소개도 할까 합니다. 따뜻한 커피 한 잔, 좋은 책 그리고 좋은 사람들, 아마도 넉넉한 가을이 될 것 같습니다.

Korean books
Korean books. Flickr 2016-04-IMG_1667

이 달에는무협지와 판타지 소설 시리즈를 소개합니다. 이 가을 독파로 인한 성취감을 맛보세요.

오월은 New Zealand Music Month입니다. Christchurch City Libraries에서도 많은 공연이 준비되어 있습니다. 잊지 말고 가족 또는 친구와 함께 도서관에서 음악이있는 시간을 함께하세요.

Know thyself: the Treaty of Waitangi Collection

Recently I attended a workshop on the Treaty of Waitangi as part of my staff training. I have to admit I was floored at how little I actually knew about what is one of the founding documents of New Zealand.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi
Te Tiriti display. Flickr 2014-02-03IMG_1926

At school in history we learned about the execution of Charles I, the interregnum and then the restoration of the monarchy. I also remember lessons on Israel, Ireland and the World Wars. All of these are worthy subjects but there was little mention of what our own history looked like. I guess as a European New Zealander I was taught that my history was in Ireland and Scotland where my forefathers/mothers came from. The reality though is having visited these places it was made plain to me that I am not Irish or Scottish but a New Zealander – with a history I should know about.

One of our most recent eResource additions to the library is the Treaty of Waitangi Collection, a platform bringing together some of the vital writings on the Treaty and the Waitangi Tribunal. This platform contains multiple electronic reference books that can be read and searched individually or as a group from home or in libraries. We have come a long way from when I was in school when computers were the size of small windowless buildings and New Zealand topics were not discussed. This eResource will help others including myself understand the nation they were born and grew up in.

The Family Tree rant

early warningThis is a rant about books – usually family sagas – in which the relationships between characters cannot be understood without reference to comprehensive family trees. These tables or lists of characters are usually found near the front of the book, but occasionally (and perversely) are only discovered right at the back, by which time you have worked yourself up into quite a frothy.

Not a fan.

And don’t judge me until you have read all three of Pulitzer prize-winning author Jane Smiley’s latest trilogy on the Langdon family: Some Luck; Early Warning and Golden Age. Using the fictional and fascinating  Langdon family to walk us through a century of American history, Smiley tests my family tree tolerance to its very limits.

The Lord of the RingsResearch indicates that 9 important characters per novel is about all most of us can tolerate. Yet Tolkien created a whopping 923 characters in The Lord of The Rings series, and readers have been very forgiving. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, on the other hand, has copped a fair bit of criticism for a character list that stretches to 80 plus 2 accompanying family trees. Smiley’s Langdons – a reasonably fertile lot, grow from a cast of 45 in Just Luck, to 72 in Early Warning and a 105 by the final book Golden Age. I’ve no complaint with Smiley’s writing, it is brilliant, so what exactly is my problem?

  • I find it tiresome to have to flick back to the family tree whenever a new character is mentioned. A mere 30 or so pages from the end of Early Warning a new character, previously unmentioned, was not clarified in the text which meant that even at that late stage in my reading, I was still at the mercy of the family tree.
  • Vital characters – like best friends, crucial business colleagues, lovers, illegitimate children and live-in partners don’t make the family tree cut, necessitating paging back to reread bits of the book to remember who’s who.
  • I harbour a suspicion that good writing should not need to use devices like this, and would instead be able to make clear the relationships within the text of the story.

Wolf HallYet I read, with relish, all three of the books in this Smiley’s most recent trilogy – and have ended up knowing more about the Langdon’s than I do about my own family. And what fascinating, likeable, human characters the Langdons are, and how well Smiley plucks at the lute strings of family ties.

Jane Smiley is presenting at Auckland Writers Festival this year, and is in Christchurch on Monday 9 May thanks to WORD Christchurch. Maybe fortune will smile, and I will get stuck in a lift with her. Do you have any literary questions that you would like me to ask this great author, for I fear that left to my own devices I will just break down and sob:

Why? Why? Why?

Confessions of a Jane Smiley groupie

I’m a great fan of Jane Smiley. I came across her in the late 90s when I read Moo and was impressed by her ability to write about issues confronting contemporary humanity – in this case how agribusiness was impacting on academia – with a quick wit and a writer’s eye that can spot hypocrisy at a hundred paces.

I followed up with Good Faith in which good natured real estate agent, Joe Stratford, gets seduced by the rich pickings of the US property boom and becomes a wheeler dealer par excellence. I was hooked.

Cover of A thousand acresJane Smiley spoke at the Great Hall at the Arts Centre when she visited Christchurch to promote her 1998 historical novel The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton and I was there in the front row. Smiley shows her range in this novel by writing about American history as competently as she does contemporary issues. And, I mustn’t forget to mention, Smiley was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for A Thousand Acres.

Jane Smiley is an author to watch. She doesn’t flinch from the big themes and her penmanship would make many fellow authors want to throw down their laptops in a fit of chagrin and take up a nice, easy career in brain surgery.

When I was offered the opportunity to see her WORD Christchurch talk at the newly reopened Christchurch Art Gallery on Monday 9 May, I jumped at the chance. I’ll make sure I get there early and I get a spot in the front row again. I’m a Jane Smiley groupie and I’m not ashamed to shout it to the world!

Beetle Boy – A mystery that will really bug you

Cover of Beetle boyOne of the best books I’ve read recently is all about beetles. Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard is about a boy called Darkus, whose dad has mysteriously disappeared from a locked room in a museum.  Darkus has been sent to stay with his Uncle Max while the police look into his dad’s disappearance. While staying with his uncle, Darkus finds out some things about his dad that he never knew, which all add to the mystery. With the help of his new friends Bertolt and Virginia, and a rhinoceros beetle called Baxter, Darkus sets out to uncover the truth of his father’s disappearance.

Beetle Boy is an action-packed mystery story, chock full of beetles of all kinds and some crazy characters. The villain of the story, Lucretia Cutter, is one of my favourite book villains because she is so evil and horrible. If you want a book that will really grab you read Beetle Boy. It’s the first book in a trilogy and I really can’t wait to read the next book!

You’ll discover all sorts of beetles in this story, from horned rhinoceros and stag beetles to the bombardier and blister beetles that shoot acid. Beetle Boy got me really interested in beetles and I wanted to find out more about them. What better place to find information about beetles than the library!

Here are some great books and resources about beetles that I found in the library:

  • Cover of Ultimate Bug-opediaThe Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins has some basic information about beetles alongside Steve Jenkins’ distinctive collage illustrations.  An interesting fact from this book – ‘Line up every kind of plant and animal on Earth and one of every four will be a beetle.’
  • Ultimate Bug-opedia: The Most Complete Bug Reference Ever by Darlyne Murawski and Nancy Honovich is bursting with bugs of all shapes and kinds.  There is introductory information about bugs (What is a Bug?) and more detailed information about the different insect orders. There are heaps of amazing close-up photos of bugs in this book too. An interesting fact from this book – The scientific name for beetles is Coleoptera.
  • The Book of Beetles, edited by Patrice Bouchard is the go-to guide for anyone who is bug mad!  If you want detailed information about almost all the beetles on the earth, including where they live and what they eat, this book is for you. An interesting fact from this book – scientists study beetles to develop new products and materials like adhesive-free tape and domes to help clear fog from airport runways.
  • Our Britannica Library Kids eResource is a great place to find some more information on beetles. You can choose whether you want basic information or more advanced and they have some great photos and diagrams as well.
  • Search for more books about beetles for kids


Teenage topics on Credo Reference and Gale Virtual Reference

Christchurch City Libraries offers an array of eResources for teens. One of our latest offerings is a variety of electronic reference books that address teen concerns. These books are different from eBooks – they are not downloadable but they are online for you to search on your phone or tablet any time of the day.

These concerns are of the personal type – maybe things you are not completely comfortable to discuss with others. Topics include mental health, teen pregnancy, diet, and suicide.  Anyone can post opinions to the internet or Facebook, but that does not mean they are true or helpful. If you are seeking valid information on these topics, these are a good place to start.

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The End of Black Sabbath’s touring

Black Sabbath at Barclays Centre, Brooklyn, 2014. Photo by MusikAnimal CC-BY-SA 4.0

Black Sabbath is touring the world for the last time. It’s appropriately called The End.

The Auckland show was on April 28th and then they rock Dunedin on April 30th.

I’ll be grabbing my black t-shirt and jeans and flying down to Dunedin to do some headbanging to the wonderfully heavy sound. Ozzie is one of the few old rockers that can still sing like he did in his youth. I’m so excited!

Watch out everyone! Here comes Cat

The library is the perfect place for finding new friends and discovering hidden treasures. A couple of weeks ago my wife discovered a series of picture books about a mischievous cat that had the whole family laughing out loud.

Cover of Here comes the tooth fairyThere are currently four books in the series written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Claudia Rueda – Here Comes Easter Cat, Here Comes Valentine Cat, Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat and Here Comes Santa Cat.  Each of the books is a hilarious conversation between the reader and Cat.

Cat is a bit grumpy. He hates Valentines Day and he’s jealous of the Easter Bunny, but the reader helps Cat work through his problems. Cat is tricky too so you often have to get him back on the right path again. He tries tricking the tooth fairy and wants to send Dog in to space in a rocket.

These books are so funny because Cat interacts with the reader using just signs that he holds up and his facial expressions. Here’s just one example:

From Here Comes Valentine Cat by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda
From Here Comes Valentine Cat by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda

We loved Cat’s facial expressions. Claudia can show you that Cat is up to no good just by raising his eyebrow or showing him smirking. Cat holding up the signs works really well too because you often have to use these to work out what Cat is thinking.

We originally got just a couple of the Cat stories but we had to reserve the others because they’re just so brilliant. They’re perfect for both young and old and you won’t mind reading them again and again. We even have an eAudiobook copy of Here Comes Easter Cat through OverDrive that is narrated by the author, which is fabulous.

Headscarves and hymens: Why the Middle East needs a sexual revolution

Mona Eltahawy by Personaldemocracy. cc by-sa 2.0

Over the years I’ve had ambivalent feelings toward feminism.

However, this has changed markedly as I’ve encountered the work of people like Egyptian-American journalist and feminist commentator Mona Eltahawy, whose book Headscarves and Hymens states the case for “why the Middle East needs a sexual revolution”…and arguably a reformation.

This book came up on my radar because some argue it’s a key feminist work! And such works are important because they bring feminist issues to the forefront of the simple male mind, making me much more sympathetic toward the feminist movement and forgiving feminism’s sins against me…

After all, as a child, I blamed feminism for mother forbidding me to play with the muscular toy figurine G.I Joe, the plastic embodiment of the American military industrial complex.

Mother didn’t want me corrupted by a perverted depiction of masculinity, which promoted jingoistic American nationalism and war.

However, as I’ve grown older, and gotten (somewhat) educated, I came to realize that feminism is critical to the evolution of civilisation…

For most of history, the “fairer sex” has been subjugated by wicked men like G.I Joe, who deprive women of their civil liberties and sit on the couch in their horrible underwear, with their feet on the Ikea coffee table.

Which bring’s my trivial childhood recollections to an end, because sadly, the political, economic and social circumstances many women endure the world over are harsh and lamentable… such as those depicted in this read…

Headscarves and HymensIn this book, Eltahawy argues that throughout most of the Middle East, women experience on-going political, economic and social subjugation. She claims this is a region which doesn’t uphold plurality, individuality, autonomy and tolerance: the principles which underpin Women’s Rights in various countries.

There is a catalogue of personal experiences and statistics which Eltahawy refers to in order to buttress her impassioned claims.

Her travels into Egypt’s social and political cocktail of unrest gave her a multitude of insights into what many female citizens face there: simply walking through public spaces and riding trains means enduring a gauntlet of ungoverned, regular and almost casual sexual harassment. Women have no recourse against this because the Egyptian state doesn’t seem to care about this sexually violent culture.

Further to this, Eltahawy was arbitrarily imprisoned, sexually assaulted and beaten by Egyptian police after she partook in protests there.

Eltahawy argues thousands of women share these kinds of experiences throughout the entire Middle East every day.

She details how women have little economic and legal mobility in the region. Custody disputes over children, domestic violence, divorce and succession etc are regulated and determined by laws derived from archaic religious statutes, which favour men and almost completely deprive women of any control over family or assets.

Even basic privileges are denied, such as driving, participation in sports, wearing make up (because it “prompts sexual harassment’), and travelling alone without a male family member. Much of which is overseen by religious police throughout the region.

Elathawy argues this totalitarianism is the result of ultra-conservative Wahhabist and Sunni Islamic doctrines which are espoused throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa.

Critics have argued that her views are analytically shallow – that the Middle East is not culturally and theologically homogeneous, and that she posits mono-causal explanations that are borne out of her own Western-centricity which is covered by a misguided feminist veil.

However, that being said, a fact check on Pew, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International websites seem to support her claims.

In any case, this book has shone a light on my own white, male privilege, reminding me that feminism is a critical movement for humankind, and not just a force which wants to send young boys to school in Roman sandals.

Have a read and see what you think – of course your amazing Christchurch City Libraries network has copies you can borrow.

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