Beetle Boy by M.G.Leonard is the winner of the Branford Boase Award 2017. It is an enthralling read. Contemporary in its feel and a storyline full of mystery, Beetle Boy is perfect to sit down and go off on a virtual adventure. The characters are vivid and unapoloetic for who they are.
Darkus, the hero of our story, the Beetle Boy, lost his mum when he was 7 to pnuemonia. Life can suck especially if she was the glue that held your tiny universe together. Now thirteen he has to contend with the sudden disappearance of his father. Darkus's father being the Director of Science at the Natural History Museum is an entity in the public eye and headlines scream murder, fugitive and other ominous news as headlines often do. Darkus recounts the dark tunnel from which his father and he had only just slowly come out of a few years ago. Now this new darkness looms.
His mum, Esme Cuttle, had been taken away suddenly by pnuemonia. The shock was terrible. His dad was overcome with grief. Some days-blue days, Darkus called them - his father lay in the bed and stared at the wall, unable to speak, tears rolling down his cheeks. On the bleakest blue days, Darkus would bring tea and biscuits and sit beside his dad, reading. It was double hard, losing Mum, and Dad being so sad all the time. Darkus had to learn to take care of himself. At school he got along with everyone, but he didn't have close friends. He kept to himself. The other children wouldn't understand and he wasn't sure he could explain it.The only thing that mattered was taking care of dad and helping him get happy again.Finally, four years after Mum's death, the blue days got fewer and further apart and Darkus watched with cautious joy as his father awoke from his long sleep of sadness. He became a proper dad again, playing football on Sundays, smiling at Darkus over the breakfast table and teasing him about his unruly hair.
Enter Darkus's uncle Professor Maximilian Cuttle, who promptly shifts Darkus to his flat. His uncle, an archaeologist is hardly conventional; his home is full of masks and other tell-tale signs of his adventures around the world. Maps and atlases lay about the house, as do many books, including one on Cannibalism!
Darkus also has to start in a new school, King Ethelred Hall High School. Strangely he starts sighting beetles and learns from Uncle Max that his father was totally into beetles as a child. At the new school Darkus makes two new friends Virginia Wallace and Bertolt Roberts. Two totally different youngsters who simply can't do without each other.
While Virginia is loud and fierce, Bertolt speaks little and blends. The two welcome Darkus into their midst and for once Darkus feels he can speak to children his age. Virgina saves Darkus from the school bully but he encounters the bully again while he waits on the kerb outside his uncle's home. Darkus also makes another new friend, a beetle. Initially, he is scared of him but he warms up to the beetle soon enough.
Looking up from underneath, he could see why but it looked somehow...friendly. Its bulbous eyes glistened like blackberries, and it was holding its mouth open as if trying to smile. Although the beetle appeared to be pitch black from above, underneath it had ginger hair sticking out of the gaps between its joints. It was almost cute. And then he realized: this was the creature from uncle Max's window the day he'd moved in. The six legs, the horn, the size it all fitted.
He names the beetle (a rhinoceros beetle) Baxter. The beetle seems to understand a lot of what Darkus talks to him, much to the surprise of the boy.
From this point on, the story takes an adventurous turn with uncle Max, Darkus, and Baxter starting to seek clues for the missing Director of science a.k.a dad to Darkus. Joining them are Virginia and Bertolt. A spying yellow ladybird, a scheming patron at the museum Madame Cutter make the mystery all the more delicious.Telling you anymore dear reader would be a disservice but do keep the words genetic engineering, bombs, poo, underground prison, punches, and armies of beetles in mind when you think of the book's climax.
Listen to author M.G.Leonard as she talks about Beetle Boy.
Beetle Boy is illustrated by Júlia Sardà and published by Scholastic.
If you are therefore looking for an adventure filled, well-written book for children 7 and up, Beetle Boy is a great pick.
The Beetle Boy trilogy has three books in it. The first is Beetle Boy, the second is Revenge of the Beetle Queen and the third is Beetle Queen (Battle of the Beetles).
Get the series by clicking on the links below: