I don’t like spiders and snakes – and I’m not too fond of bats either

I had some trouble falling asleep last night – oh, I don’t know – it might have been the bat flying around my bedroom. I am the first to extol the virtues of bats for controlling the mosquito population in my yard, but I have to draw the line when they invade my personal space. While I was cowering in the closet, my husband handled it. First he pretended he was a bat whisperer and tried to coax the creature out – (hey if it works for horses, why not?) Then he got smart. He opened the window screen – exited the room, waited a while and then gave me the all clear signal. Now we could go back to bed. But getting to sleep was another story.

Maybe that is the result of something a pest control officer told me a few years ago. In my old house — which was attached to a barn — at one point we had six bats in my dining room. I called the pest control folks for advice. They told us to open the windows and said “If you see six, you probably have sixty!” Yikes.

Despite their homely appearance – think rat with leathery wings – bats have a certain cachet in children’s literature. “Stellaluna” by Janell Cannon is the story of an adorable fruit bat that tumbles into a bird’s nest and is raised as a bird until she is reunited with her mother. Popular with the preschool crowd, Cannon’s illustrations are lush and the bat is definitely cute – contrary to what I can tell you they look like when they land in your hair while you are lying in bed.

When I think bats, I also think rabies – and that brings me back to the time my daughter thought the dog had gotten into the trash in the barn and dutifully started picking it up. As she picked half-chewed cucumbers up off the wooden floor, a raccoon – foaming at the mouth – was hunkered down in the corner. His heavy breathing alerted her and the next door neighbor (a sheriff) captured it and took it down to the state animal welfare office where they diagnosed rabies. Thus began her multiple rounds of rabies shots. Not a thing to make her feel fond of raccoons. And yet, when I think of raccoons in children’s literature – they are pretty darn cute too. Who can forget the antics of Sterling North’s raccoon “Rascal“? Set at the end of World War I, this reminiscence of life in a small Midwestern town with a baby raccoon is still popular. And “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn is a heartwarming tale of Chester the raccoon who is nervous about going to school. His clever mom solves the problem by finding a way to send one of her reassuring kisses along with him to school.

There seems to be a tradition in children’s books of transforming slightly scary creatures into familiar friends – we have Charlotte the spider who is wise and kind in E.B. White’s classic “Charlotte’s Web” — White obviously never camped in Maryland like I did and woke up with the tent ceiling literally covered with hundreds of spiders. If only those spiders had been writing words in their webs — like Charlotte did — instead of crawling into our sleeping bags. In addition to “Stellaluna” we also have Janell Cannon rehabilitating the reputation of snakes in her book “Verdi.” It is the story of an easy-to-like python that resists growing old and staid. His exuberance is matched by the vivid greens and yellows of Cannon’s illustrations.

Chester, the country cricket is another example of a children’s character that is based on a pesky creature. Chester inadvertently finds himself stranded in a NYC subway station in George Selden’s “Cricket in Times Square” – This Newbery classic and its film version are still a great choice for family enjoyment. Verna Aardema did her best to make us sympathetic to mosquitoes in her retelling of a West African folktale titled “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears.” With Leo and Diane Dillon’s colorful illustrations and inventive language, this Caldecott Medal winner is perfect for sharing with a group.

This summer in the children’s room we’ve also embraced our share of creepy crawlies – the summer reading theme is “What’s buzzin at the library?” We are sharing stories and pictures of bees, butterflies, cicadas, dragonflies, lady bugs, caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, slugs, scorpions and (gasp) cockroaches. Some patrons have even brought bugs in for us to try to identify. For more reading ideas on insects and other things that crawl on you in the night, drop by and pick up one of our reading lists – apparently there is no end to stories about bugs. Nature — it’s a beautiful thing.

Reprinted with permission from the Chelmsford Independent