cover image Beetle Boy

Beetle Boy

Lawrence David. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32549-3

In this tongue-in-cheek story inspired by Franz Kafka's ""The Metamorphosis,"" a second grader copes with being a bug for a day. Durand (The Snoops) provides gouaches of a boy-size but not-too-gross brown bug clad in a plaid shirt, surrounded by puppetlike humans with elongated noses and normal kids' toys. David (The Good Little Girl) sets a breezy tone by mimicking Kafka's memorable opening line: ""Gregory Sampson woke one morning to discover that he had become a giant beetle."" Baffled by his odd predicament, Gregory cuts extra armholes in his shirt and finds that his extra legs help him count to six in math class. In his hurry to eat breakfast and catch the school bus, the ovoid fellow tumbles down the stairs and lands on his carapace; ""after a few minutes of wriggling, he was able to grab hold of the banister and flip himself over."" Yet readers may find it troubling that no one, with the exception of his best friend, notices his inexplicable transformation. The author renders the boy invisible to adults and fellow students and derives most of his humor from deadpan allusions to the classic story, which may get a chuckle from Kafka fans but will be unfamiliar to beginning readers. Durand strikes a delicate balance between real and surreal elements in his imaginative artwork, but the tale ends flatly, with a banal plea for good parenting: poor Gregory just needs loving attention, and the only way he can get it is by scuttling across the ceiling. Ages 6-up. (Feb.)