Today’s featured title, 13 Ways to Eat a Fly by Sue Heavenrich and illustrated by David Clark, just came out last week and already there’s quite a buzz about it. Let’s find out why.
This fabulous picture book puts both the S (science) and the M (math) in STEAM. And a bunch of silly A (art), too.
The story starts with a cloud of thirteen different kinds of flies.
Yum! These flies are someone’s dinner.
As they travel through the book, the flies meet one untimely end after another as the reader learns about all the living things that rely on flies for their survival.
13 Ways to Eat a Fly has tidbits for everyone. The youngest readers will enjoy counting down the numbers. Slightly older readers will enjoy the gross and silly aspects, such as the absolutely hilarious chart of the edible parts of a fly along with a graphic listing the nutritional facts. Budding entomologists will soak up all the science, including the common and family names of each of the flies, interesting details about the predators, and an introduction to food chains. Educators will enjoy two pages of suggested books and websites in the back matter, so helpful for digging deeper.
Not sure you really want to read about icky flies? Don’t worry, by the time you’re done, you will be rooting for them!
Ever wondered how an author gets an idea for a book? You’re in luck. This week I talked with author Sue Heavenrich by phone. Be a fly on the wall for our conversation!
You’ve written a book about insects for children. Were you interested in critters when you were young?
When I was a kid, I kept a notebook of organisms – sort of like a “life list” birders keep, but with animals and plants that I got to know. I loved to make lists: all of the kinds of squirrels found at the Grand Canyon; the different kinds of trees at the Girl Scout camp; what the black widow spider living in my window ate for breakfast (don’t tell my mom – she still does not know about that spider!) So I am thinking it’s not a surprise that I would begin to write a book about flies by making a list of flies seen in and around my garden.
That is so cool. Keeping a notebook and making lists are great tools for learning. Where did it take you?
I got my master’s degree in biology working on insect behavior studies with Michael Breed at U of CO, Boulder. Two of the papers I published (My name was Susan K. Smith at the time):
It is fascinating that you studied cockroaches (I’ll have to tell you my cockroach stories some time.) Right now, I’d love to hear more about the garden you mentioned.
I have a vegetable garden. It is not so much about growing food, but it is a place to observe and learn about other living things. Definitely about the woodchucks, chipmunks, and beetles!
A few years ago I got involved with the Great Sunflower Project, a citizen science study facilitated by Gretchen (LeBuhn). We grew sunflowers and counted the bees and other pollinators that visited. As a result, I got into gardening for bugs.
I grow plants with the aim to attract native insects and my yard has dandelions, violets, buttercups, etc. I enjoy looking closely at the insects that visit. I am especially fond of bumble bees, which are the teddy bears of the bee world.
Once I found an insect that looked like a hornet, but something was not quite right. It had two wings and the antennae looked wrong for a wasp. Turns out it was a fly that mimicked a hornet. That made me start thinking about the diversity of flies, and you guessed it, eventually led to the book.
We are thankful for that fly!
Besides in the garden, where else can we find you?
Thank you so much for your insights and sharing your interest in flies. Maybe some day we will all have gardens for flies.
Start a fly or insect notebook like Sue did. This can be a paper notebook or if you are older and have a phone, you can use apps like iNaturalist.
Keep records of the flies you see. Make a list of common and scientific names. Find out more about each type of fly in books or websites like the ones listed in the book.
If you like to draw, add illustrations to your notebooks. Drawing requires close and accurate observations. It is a useful skill. You can strive for scientific accuracy and have fun like David Clark did.
If you have a camera, you might want to take photographs. I keep photographic records of the flies I see around my yard in this blog.
Think flies are bland and boring and only eat garbage? Check these out!
Bottle Flies – Family Calliphoridae (prev. post)
Fun fact: Bottle flies pollinate specialized carrion flowers like Stapelia (previous post).
Long-legged flies (Dolichopodidae)
Fun fact: The adult flies are beneficial in the garden because they are predators of other small insects like aphids and leafhoppers, as well as spider mites (previous post).
Crane flies (Tipulidae)
Fun fact: Although they may superficially look like giant mosquitoes, crane flies in a completely different family. They are fragile insects, not harmful in any way (previous post).
Bee Flies (Bombyliidae)
Fun fact: Like bees, bee flies are pollinators. They use their long mouthparts to suck up nectar from flowers (previous post).
Hover or Flower Flies (Syrphidae)
Featured in the book: Mediterranean fruit fly (Tephritidae)
(Photograph by Alvesgaspar at Wikimedia)
Mediterranean fruit flies are potentially invasive pests. Some states, particularly California, have extensive monitoring programs. If even a single fly is found, they spring into action to prevent it from taking hold.
Fruit flies (Drosphilidae)
Can you tell this regular fruit fly from the Mediterranean one above? Hint: Flies in the family Tephritidae are also sometimes called “picture-winged” flies. Let us know the differences you see in the comments.
This family of fruit flies are not in the book, but are important. The study of fruit flies has led to incredible scientific advancements in the fields of genetics and embryology.
Fun fact: Fruit fly larvae consume fruit that is rotting or fermenting. They eat the fungi/yeasts in decaying fruit as an important source of protein ( Nature article, previous post, previous post with life cycle).
So, do you think flies are cool now?
Reading age : 4 – 8 years
Publisher : Charlesbridge (February 16, 2021)
ISBN-10 : 1580898904
ISBN-13 : 978-1580898904
Disclosure: Book is my personal copy. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.