cover image LITTLE BUGGY


Kevin O'Malley, . . Harcourt/Gulliver, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-15-216339-6

Generous measures of humor and empathy bring depth to this modest tale of a ladybug learning to fly. The drama unfolds in what appears to be a dense jungle packed with leafy obstacles. With his father counseling him, Little Buggy attempts to fly, and after a few falls he soars, the perspective changing from the insects' to a human's eye–view of two tiny ladybugs flying over a typical suburban backyard. What makes the story soar, too, is its relevance to children learning any new skill. The father is encouraging and the son eager, but O'Malley (Bud) also cannily uses two spectating snails to plumb the fears that nag every novice. "He's way too little to fly," opines Fred, and after Little Buggy falls a second time, he cracks, "Stick a fork in the kid. He's done." In a stylistic departure, O'Malley uses spare penstrokes to create a layering of woodland textures; he captures Fred's cynicism with half-lidded eyes and a smirky mouth, and Little Buggy's mix of excitement and terror with bug-eyes and antennae gone awry. The cheerful cartoon style, with speech bubbles, ink drawings and flat, computerized coloration suit this light but encouraging story. Best of all, though, is the ironic turn of events. After the ladybugs depart, naysaying Fred straps on two wing-like leaves, explaining, "If the kid can do it, so can I!" Ages 3-7. (Aug.)