Ten Little LadybugsApr 30, 2004 · peterb · 4 minute read
Ten Little DEAD Ladybugs
A gothic tale of kidnapping, murder, cannibalism, and mayhem in the insect kingdom, Ten Little Ladybugs, written by Melanie Gerth and illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith, presents a troubling view of the devastating havoc that eschatological idolatry and ideology wreak on America’s children. That such potentially scarring material is promoted as a “children’s book” is even more troubling. The cover is gaily festooned with the pastoral scene from a bourgeois garden, the smiles on the faces of the predatory insects arrayed around the ladybugs designed to mislead even the most cynical reader. The ladybugs themselves are given special treatment, being plastic appliques which can be touched by the unwitting child-victim. This pre-literate tactile contact enhances the bond between the reader and the helpless meals-ready-to- eat. As the pages are turned, and the ladybugs are devoured one by one, the appliques disappear one at a time as well, leaving only holes in the book (and in the soul and heart of the toddler holding it).
Once the reader is lured to begin the book, there is no respite. It begins with an almost Tarantinoesque shock of bloody violence:
_ Ten little ladybugs, sitting on a vine.
Along came a butterfly, then there were….
and when the reader turns the page, of course, they will find the word “nine,” and the first of the harmless ladybugs has been consumed by the innocently smiling butterfly. The phrasing of the poem, an homage to Agatha Christie’s classic suspense thriller Ten Little Indians, is both calculated and cruel. As in that grim, humourless work, there is no detective come to save the day here; no Pea weevil Poirot to stop the slaughter and accuse the guilty. All there is here is death, senseless and brutal.
_ Nine little ladybugs, skipping on a gate
Along came a caterpiller, then there were eight.
The innocence of the ladybugs is maintained throughout the narrative. It is more than mere unwariness – even as they move towards their stomach-acid drenched doom, the author relentlessly describes them as “skipping,” “dancing,” trying to force the reader into accepting the (nonsensical) idea that the ladybugs have accepted, even welcomed joyously, being rent asunder in this fashion. The analogy to Leni Riefenstahl’s Tag der Freiheit, which likewise disguised the horrors of the Nazi regime by focusing on the smiling, fresh faces of German soldiers, could not be more clear. Of course the caterpilllar is healthy and strong – he is nourished by the flesh of those he oppresses.
I will not excerpt the entire book here – enough harm has been done by Gerth and Huliska-Beith, and I do not want to continue the madness – but their message is corrupt and corrupting: “No one is innocent.” A bee, a turtle, a duck, even animals that are not insectivorous take part in the macabre ladybug buffet.
I was ready to write this off as merely another piece of “shock” fiction, when I reached the chilling conclusion that demonstrated the devious (and subtle) ideology behind the tract:
_One little ladybug, sitting all alone
Along came a breeze, and then she was…home._
The symbology here is powerful and insidious. By employing the very elements themseves to deliver the coup de grace, Gerth disclaims responsibility and absolves the guilty of their crimes. “That’s the way the world really works,” she seems to be saying. “Get used to it, kids. Eat or be eaten.” Such a message, while dispiriting, might be acceptable in a book targeted at an older audience (Orwell’s “a boot stomping on a human face…forever” comes to mind), since it could be viewed as a cautionary tale. Here, targeted at toddlers, it is merely mean-spirited.
In the final page, depicting all the ladybugs “safe and sound” in the afterlife, happily cavorting with their various tormentors, you can hear the authors’ cruel, mocking laughter echoing through the page. It chilled me to the very bone.
Ten Little Ladybugs is readily available to children at your local bookstore, and also at amazon.com.
Next week: The feast of Atreus and Miss Spider’s Tea Party.