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Book Review / The Insect Hotel

I read my old children's books (or, correctly, books I had when I was a child) usually at times when I'm in need of some confirmation of life and the most direct way of remembering how to enjoy it. The best ones give that in an entertaining and timeless way and remind you exactly why childhood seemed like it went on forever - boundless fascination!

The Insect Hotel is a book in the same guise - it can make children laugh (it made me laugh so the kids must get a kick out of it!) but subconsciously teach those important life lessons. It's a story of Harry and his dad (based around the author and his son); they've built a hotel for the insects in the garden and one night trying to get Harry off to sleep (remember when you didn't feel shattered at the end of the day?) Dad regales Harry with the tale of Woodster the architect woodlouse and his pains trying to get the Hotel finished. Next there's Stinker the beetle, Curly Whirly the snail, Nutmeg and Conundrum the spiders (and I imagine spiders are *exactly* like these two) and finally Gamble the ladybird. All are morality tales, wrapped in a cloak of fun and fantasy as they draw on their themes. There’s no dictation, just a positive message. Curly Whirly was my favourite tale. It resonates very much how I feel about the world around me and it was excellently told. My second favourite was Gamble. Ladybirds are adorable, no argument, and those poor little things give us so much fascination we are constantly examining them (who doesn't go, "ooh, look, a Ladybird!" with a squeal when they land on you?). This is captured particularly well in Gamble's tale. And the die joke. And the frog joke (which I found hilarious!). Even though spiders are my least favourite (but most respected) garden creatures, Nutmeg and Conundrum’s tale was great fun because their personalities felt so perfect, even though they didn't come off particularly well in the end!

Without reserving naughty humour, which is again important in children's books because they get it (plus it forms healthy, sarcastic personalities) David Stringer manages to balance that very childlike feeling of endless days, boundless energy, persistent enthusiasm and appreciation of everything around us. I find myself recalling the days of turning stones to find ants, staying still so butterflies would land on me and being amazed at those spiny caterpillars that come out in force in summertime at first school. Good grounding for taking patiently macro-pictures of dragonflies in modern life (please do dragonflies Mr. Stringer!) which are like cyborg-insect helicopters and astonishing.

The Insect Hotel is important because it enforces that get outside and play aspect of children's lives that modern life is committed to disrupting (I promise this is passion not preachiness!). It offers children (and adults I'd say) living both in cities and out in the green a chance to realise there are whole other words happening within our own, which are significant and fascinating, and can be found in those massive fields or in your back yard. Suffice to say, I want to build one. I loved the book. The cover genuinely captures the atmosphere of the world within, and I wish David the best of luck with this and his future offerings!

(P.S. Dragonflies. And bees.)


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