cover image Beetles, Lightly Toasted

Beetles, Lightly Toasted

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Atheneum Books, $16.95 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-689-31355-4

Andy wants to win the annual fifth grade essay contest and get his picture in the local paper more than anything in the world. He thinks he has a pretty good chance, even though his ancient rival, his cousin Jack, will be competing for it, too. The class boycotts the contest when the essay subject is announced: conservation. But Jack's mysterious experiment involving hamburgers in a car engine galvanizes Andy, who comes up with an essay entitled ""How Beetles, Bugs, and Worms Can Save Money and the Food Supply, Both.'' How? By eating themAndy discovers ways of preparing the critters, using family and friends as unknowing tasters, but not daring to taste them himself. This fast-paced novel, with its likable protagonist and strongly evoked rural Iowa farm setting will remind readers of Thomas Rockwell's How to Eat Fried Worms. But the family of black characters, described as having ``skin the color of gravy,'' emerges as tired stereotypes. They run a soul-food restaurant and eat fried chicken, catfish and hush puppies; the kids slap each other's hands and say, ``Hey, man, gimme five!'' and ``All right!'' and they tend to drop verbs, as in ``How you doing?'' Though the interracial friendship between Andy and Sam is well-intentioned and serves as a positive element in the story, Sam the character is merely one-dimensional, a collage of hackneyed cliches. And such disappointment is hard to ignore, coming from the notable author. Ages 9-11. (September)