Author Rebecca Petruck Eats Bugs

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How far would you go to research a book? For her upcoming book, Will Nolan Eats Bugs (Amulet, Fall 2017) I think it’s fair to say that writer Rebecca Petruck went all the way.

Q: What gave you the idea to write Will Nolan Eats Bugs?

A: I’d read a short article in National Geographic about how the United Nations was recommending that we eat more bugs. They suggested eight tasty bugs to try. The moment I read it I thought, “That’s middle grade! I have to write a story!” I was sold on the idea of entomophagy (eating insects as food), and the UN’s point that raising insects requires far fewer resources than raising plant-based foods, and chickens, pigs and cows. It takes very few resources, but produces lots of food that is nutritionally beneficial. Bug-eating is a responsible thing to do for the planet.

I’ve been very careful as I write the book—it’s funny, and Will is making jokes, but I wanted to make it very clear that entomophagy is a serious thing. It’s set in farm country in Minnesota. Will is a kid who knows where his food comes from. He sees the corn growing in the fields. For him, even though he starts out by making fun of entomophagy, there’s always the seed that this really does make sense.

Q: Beyond bugs, what’s the book about?

A: It’s really about friendship and loyalty. A lot of middle grade books that focus on changing friendships are about girls, but relationships shift, identities shift, for boys as well. I wanted to talk about that. If you grow up with someone from kindergarten, and they’re your friend and have your back—but what if the friend is teasing someone? What if you’re not?

For Will, he’s in the library, messing around with stinkbugs, and there’s a Hispanic American boy there, a new guy at school. Will’s old friend is giving the new kid a hard time, and Will eats a stinkbug to defend him. It’s hard for me to describe it here, but it makes sense in the context of the book—it’s an honorable act. Will spirals from there: he thinks he did a good thing, and he did—but he has his own biases to confront. One good thing doesn’t mean that he’s a good person or that the Hispanic boy—whose name is Eloy—owes him anything. Will has to reconcile being a good friend with being a decent person, and figure out what to do when those two things come into conflict.

Eloy’s dad’s family is from Oaxaca, where they eat chapulines­—spiced grasshoppers—and chicatanas, a salsa made with flying ants. You can go to the market and pick up spiced grasshoppers, like we do with a bag of popcorn. So eating bugs is part of Eloy’s cultural background, and he confronts Will for appropriating his gastronomic culture for his own purposes.

Q: This feature is about how far authors will go to do their research—what they’ll do to make sure that their books are authentic. What have you done to research Will Nolan Eats Bugs?

A: Well, I spoke with a food engineer working with NASA to prep a mission to Mars, was a 7th-grader for a day at Triton Middle School, attended wrestling practice and went with the wrestling team to a tournament in Rochester, MN (riding the bus with them both ways). Lots of fun! I’d written several drafts of the book without eating bugs. I totally cheated, reading books and doing research on the Internet.

When I realized that I was going to write a book about eating bugs, I got The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, by David Gordon. He’s been espousing the idea of entomophagy for decades. It’s become trendy lately, but he’s been doing it forever. I flipped through it for ideas, looking to see what recipes had the most eeewww appeal but weren’t so gross that kids couldn’t connect with them. I knew I wanted some kind of grasshoppers or crickets in the book—I thought, these guys are gonna escape. I could just imagine them hopping, chirping. Then there were the waxworms, which look kind of like maggots. And the earthworm jerky—that worked out really well, because in the scene where Will eats it, he’s actually being a jerk.

Q: I knew about the cricket tacos and waxworm cookies but . . . earthworm jerky?

A: Earthworm jerky was the only one I couldn’t swallow. It tasted like old fish scales. But I’m so glad I tasted it, because it changes the scene in a much better way. The moment I had that in my mouth, I thought, Will’s not getting away with this.

Q: Where did you get the bugs that you cooked?

A: Daniella Martin, who has the blog Girl Meets Bug, writes about entomophagy and her bug-eating experiences around the world. She has suggestions about where to buy bugs. The crickets came from Fluker’s Farm, and the waxworms came from a place in San Diego where they raise them organically on a diet of honey and oats. They’re so good that the owner will sometimes eat them fresh out of the bin.

Q: I know that you didn’t eat bugs alone. Who were your partners in crime, and how did you convince them to join you?

A: Kathleen Fox, Jocelyn Rish, and Kami Kinard have been my critique partners for years and years. They all write kid lit as well, so they were curious. Kathleen grew up in a very hippie household, so she was all in. Jocelyn writes funny horror, and I think she kind of likes to scare herself. And Kami was just very generous of heart, although she couldn’t make herself try the earthworm jerky. It was just friendship. Really, really good friendship.

Q: So what did you make?

A: We made the cricket tacos first. The crickets were five weeks old, so they had a tender exoskeleton, not thick or chewy. I sautéed them with butter and salt.

Q: Wait, when they came in the mail, were they alive?

A: They arrived alive, chirping away in the house until I put them in the freezer. Before I could cook them, I had to thaw them. It was funny—I took them out of the freezer and I had the windows open, and all of a sudden I heard chirping. My first reaction was, They’re waking up! I have zombie crickets in my house! But no, it was just the crickets outside the window.

Q: You made cricket tacos . . . how were they?

A: Well, when you put anything on a taco, it’s good. I made a vegetarian taco filling and put the crickets on top. Jocelyn got a leg stuck in her teeth. She was not excited about that, but it was funny.

Q: I just bet she wasn’t. What did you make next?

A: We took a break, and then we made the waxworm cookies. Waxworms are harder. They come in a bed of sawdust, and you have to freeze them and then sort them out from the sawdust—but do it quickly, because they thaw very quickly. After a while, it became very clear that these were caterpillar larvae—they’re actually the larvae of the wax moth. They had a soft, squishy texture, very much like maggots. If my friends hadn’t had to handle the raw larvae, I think they might have enjoyed the cookies more.

Q: Wow. How did the waxworm cookies taste?

A: To me, they truly did taste like walnuts. The texture was chewy, like old, stale walnuts. I thought, These are cookies that I would pretty much eat. I’m not sure that Jocelyn or Kami would, but Kathleen asked, Where do I get these? Not as a joke, either—she wanted to make them for her friends.

Q: So . . . are you a committed entomophagist now?

A: Intellectually I’m on board, but I still have the very American reaction of, eeeww, that’s a bug. I get why bug eating is good, I’m behind it 100%, but then there’s the reality of maggots in my hand. I think this conflict parallels some of what Will is dealing with, becoming friends with someone who is ethnically different. There’s the idealism that everyone should be treated equally—but then Will makes assumptions about Eloy, like that he’s poor, when in reality Eloy is better off than Will. Will has to think about where his assumptions come from, and he has these mini-confrontations with himself throughout the book. He knows what’s right, but that space between knowing the right thing and doing the right thing can feel pretty wide sometimes.

BIO

Rebecca Petruck is the author of the middle grade novels Steering Toward Normal (Amulet, 2014) and Will Nolan Eats Bugs (Amulet, Fall 2017). Steering Toward Normal is a Blue Ribbon winner as a Best Book of 2014 by the BCCB, an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices selection, as well as a Kids Indie Next List title. Vanity Fair’s Hollywood dubbed it a “book we’d like to see made into a film,” and the L.A. Times included Steering Toward Normal in its Summer Books Preview.

Rebecca is a Minnesota girl, though she also has lived in Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, England, Connecticut and, currently, North Carolina. A former member of 4-H, she was also a Girl Scout, a cheerleader, and competed in MathCounts. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction, from UNC Wilmington, and is represented by Kate Testerman of kt literary.

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How far would you go to research a book? For her upcoming book, Will Nolan Eats Bugs (Amulet, Fall 2017) I think it’s fair to say that writer Rebecca Petruck went all the way.

Q: What gave you the idea to write Will Nolan Eats Bugs?

A: I’d read a short article in National Geographic about how the United Nations was recommending that we eat more bugs. They suggested eight tasty bugs to try. The moment I read it I thought, “That’s middle grade! I have to write a story!” I was sold on the idea of entomophagy (eating insects as food), and the UN’s point that raising insects requires far fewer resources than raising plant-based foods, and chickens, pigs and cows. It takes very few resources, but produces lots of food that is nutritionally beneficial. Bug-eating is a responsible thing to do for the planet.

I’ve been very careful as I write the book—it’s funny, and Will is making jokes, but I wanted to make it very clear that entomophagy is a serious thing. It’s set in farm country in Minnesota. Will is a kid who knows where his food comes from. He sees the corn growing in the fields. For him, even though he starts out by making fun of entomophagy, there’s always the seed that this really does make sense.

Q: Beyond bugs, what’s the book about?

A: It’s really about friendship and loyalty. A lot of middle grade books that focus on changing friendships are about girls, but relationships shift, identities shift, for boys as well. I wanted to talk about that. If you grow up with someone from kindergarten, and they’re your friend and have your back—but what if the friend is teasing someone? What if you’re not?

For Will, he’s in the library, messing around with stinkbugs, and there’s a Hispanic American boy there, a new guy at school. Will’s old friend is giving the new kid a hard time, and Will eats a stinkbug to defend him. It’s hard for me to describe it here, but it makes sense in the context of the book—it’s an honorable act. Will spirals from there: he thinks he did a good thing, and he did—but he has his own biases to confront. One good thing doesn’t mean that he’s a good person or that the Hispanic boy—whose name is Eloy—owes him anything. Will has to reconcile being a good friend with being a decent person, and figure out what to do when those two things come into conflict.

Eloy’s dad’s family is from Oaxaca, where they eat chapulines­—spiced grasshoppers—and chicatanas, a salsa made with flying ants. You can go to the market and pick up spiced grasshoppers, like we do with a bag of popcorn. So eating bugs is part of Eloy’s cultural background, and he confronts Will for appropriating his gastronomic culture for his own purposes.

Q: This feature is about how far authors will go to do their research—what they’ll do to make sure that their books are authentic. What have you done to research Will Nolan Eats Bugs?

A: Well, I spoke with a food engineer working with NASA to prep a mission to Mars, was a 7th-grader for a day at Triton Middle School, attended wrestling practice and went with the wrestling team to a tournament in Rochester, MN (riding the bus with them both ways). Lots of fun! I’d written several drafts of the book without eating bugs. I totally cheated, reading books and doing research on the Internet.

When I realized that I was going to write a book about eating bugs, I got The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, by David Gordon. He’s been espousing the idea of entomophagy for decades. It’s become trendy lately, but he’s been doing it forever. I flipped through it for ideas, looking to see what recipes had the most eeewww appeal but weren’t so gross that kids couldn’t connect with them. I knew I wanted some kind of grasshoppers or crickets in the book—I thought, these guys are gonna escape. I could just imagine them hopping, chirping. Then there were the waxworms, which look kind of like maggots. And the earthworm jerky—that worked out really well, because in the scene where Will eats it, he’s actually being a jerk.

Q: I knew about the cricket tacos and waxworm cookies but . . . earthworm jerky?

A: Earthworm jerky was the only one I couldn’t swallow. It tasted like old fish scales. But I’m so glad I tasted it, because it changes the scene in a much better way. The moment I had that in my mouth, I thought, Will’s not getting away with this.

Q: Where did you get the bugs that you cooked?

A: Daniella Martin, who has the blog Girl Meets Bug, writes about entomophagy and her bug-eating experiences around the world. She has suggestions about where to buy bugs. The crickets came from Fluker’s Farm, and the waxworms came from a place in San Diego where they raise them organically on a diet of honey and oats. They’re so good that the owner will sometimes eat them fresh out of the bin.

Q: I know that you didn’t eat bugs alone. Who were your partners in crime, and how did you convince them to join you?

A: Kathleen Fox, Jocelyn Rish, and Kami Kinard have been my critique partners for years and years. They all write kid lit as well, so they were curious. Kathleen grew up in a very hippie household, so she was all in. Jocelyn writes funny horror, and I think she kind of likes to scare herself. And Kami was just very generous of heart, although she couldn’t make herself try the earthworm jerky. It was just friendship. Really, really good friendship.

Q: So what did you make?

A: We made the cricket tacos first. The crickets were five weeks old, so they had a tender exoskeleton, not thick or chewy. I sautéed them with butter and salt.

Q: Wait, when they came in the mail, were they alive?

A: They arrived alive, chirping away in the house until I put them in the freezer. Before I could cook them, I had to thaw them. It was funny—I took them out of the freezer and I had the windows open, and all of a sudden I heard chirping. My first reaction was, They’re waking up! I have zombie crickets in my house! But no, it was just the crickets outside the window.

Q: You made cricket tacos . . . how were they?

A: Well, when you put anything on a taco, it’s good. I made a vegetarian taco filling and put the crickets on top. Jocelyn got a leg stuck in her teeth. She was not excited about that, but it was funny.

Q: I just bet she wasn’t. What did you make next?

A: We took a break, and then we made the waxworm cookies. Waxworms are harder. They come in a bed of sawdust, and you have to freeze them and then sort them out from the sawdust—but do it quickly, because they thaw very quickly. After a while, it became very clear that these were caterpillar larvae—they’re actually the larvae of the wax moth. They had a soft, squishy texture, very much like maggots. If my friends hadn’t had to handle the raw larvae, I think they might have enjoyed the cookies more.

Q: Wow. How did the waxworm cookies taste?

A: To me, they truly did taste like walnuts. The texture was chewy, like old, stale walnuts. I thought, These are cookies that I would pretty much eat. I’m not sure that Jocelyn or Kami would, but Kathleen asked, Where do I get these? Not as a joke, either—she wanted to make them for her friends.

Q: So . . . are you a committed entomophagist now?

A: Intellectually I’m on board, but I still have the very American reaction of, eeeww, that’s a bug. I get why bug eating is good, I’m behind it 100%, but then there’s the reality of maggots in my hand. I think this conflict parallels some of what Will is dealing with, becoming friends with someone who is ethnically different. There’s the idealism that everyone should be treated equally—but then Will makes assumptions about Eloy, like that he’s poor, when in reality Eloy is better off than Will. Will has to think about where his assumptions come from, and he has these mini-confrontations with himself throughout the book. He knows what’s right, but that space between knowing the right thing and doing the right thing can feel pretty wide sometimes.

BIO

Rebecca Petruck is the author of the middle grade novels Steering Toward Normal (Amulet, 2014) and Will Nolan Eats Bugs (Amulet, Fall 2017). Steering Toward Normal is a Blue Ribbon winner as a Best Book of 2014 by the BCCB, an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices selection, as well as a Kids Indie Next List title. Vanity Fair’s Hollywood dubbed it a “book we’d like to see made into a film,” and the L.A. Times included Steering Toward Normal in its Summer Books Preview.

Rebecca is a Minnesota girl, though she also has lived in Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, England, Connecticut and, currently, North Carolina. A former member of 4-H, she was also a Girl Scout, a cheerleader, and competed in MathCounts. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction, from UNC Wilmington, and is represented by Kate Testerman of kt literary.

How far would you go to research a book? For her upcoming book, Will Nolan Eats Bugs (Amulet, Fall 2017) I think it’s fair to say that writer Rebecca Petruck went all the way.

Q: What gave you the idea to write Will Nolan Eats Bugs?

A: I’d read a short article in National Geographic about how the United Nations was recommending that we eat more bugs. They suggested eight tasty bugs to try. The moment I read it I thought, “That’s middle grade! I have to write a story!” I was sold on the idea of entomophagy (eating insects as food), and the UN’s point that raising insects requires far fewer resources than raising plant-based foods, and chickens, pigs and cows. It takes very few resources, but produces lots of food that is nutritionally beneficial. Bug-eating is a responsible thing to do for the planet.

I’ve been very careful as I write the book—it’s funny, and Will is making jokes, but I wanted to make it very clear that entomophagy is a serious thing. It’s set in farm country in Minnesota. Will is a kid who knows where his food comes from. He sees the corn growing in the fields. For him, even though he starts out by making fun of entomophagy, there’s always the seed that this really does make sense.

Q: Beyond bugs, what’s the book about?

A: It’s really about friendship and loyalty. A lot of middle grade books that focus on changing friendships are about girls, but relationships shift, identities shift, for boys as well. I wanted to talk about that. If you grow up with someone from kindergarten, and they’re your friend and have your back—but what if the friend is teasing someone? What if you’re not?

For Will, he’s in the library, messing around with stinkbugs, and there’s a Hispanic American boy there, a new guy at school. Will’s old friend is giving the new kid a hard time, and Will eats a stinkbug to defend him. It’s hard for me to describe it here, but it makes sense in the context of the book—it’s an honorable act. Will spirals from there: he thinks he did a good thing, and he did—but he has his own biases to confront. One good thing doesn’t mean that he’s a good person or that the Hispanic boy—whose name is Eloy—owes him anything. Will has to reconcile being a good friend with being a decent person, and figure out what to do when those two things come into conflict.

Eloy’s dad’s family is from Oaxaca, where they eat chapulines­—spiced grasshoppers—and chicatanas, a salsa made with flying ants. You can go to the market and pick up spiced grasshoppers, like we do with a bag of popcorn. So eating bugs is part of Eloy’s cultural background, and he confronts Will for appropriating his gastronomic culture for his own purposes.

Q: This feature is about how far authors will go to do their research—what they’ll do to make sure that their books are authentic. What have you done to research Will Nolan Eats Bugs?

A: Well, I spoke with a food engineer working with NASA to prep a mission to Mars, was a 7th-grader for a day at Triton Middle School, attended wrestling practice and went with the wrestling team to a tournament in Rochester, MN (riding the bus with them both ways). Lots of fun! I’d written several drafts of the book without eating bugs. I totally cheated, reading books and doing research on the Internet.

When I realized that I was going to write a book about eating bugs, I got The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, by David Gordon. He’s been espousing the idea of entomophagy for decades. It’s become trendy lately, but he’s been doing it forever. I flipped through it for ideas, looking to see what recipes had the most eeewww appeal but weren’t so gross that kids couldn’t connect with them. I knew I wanted some kind of grasshoppers or crickets in the book—I thought, these guys are gonna escape. I could just imagine them hopping, chirping. Then there were the waxworms, which look kind of like maggots. And the earthworm jerky—that worked out really well, because in the scene where Will eats it, he’s actually being a jerk.

Q: I knew about the cricket tacos and waxworm cookies but . . . earthworm jerky?

A: Earthworm jerky was the only one I couldn’t swallow. It tasted like old fish scales. But I’m so glad I tasted it, because it changes the scene in a much better way. The moment I had that in my mouth, I thought, Will’s not getting away with this.

Q: Where did you get the bugs that you cooked?

A: Daniella Martin, who has the blog Girl Meets Bug, writes about entomophagy and her bug-eating experiences around the world. She has suggestions about where to buy bugs. The crickets came from Fluker’s Farm, and the waxworms came from a place in San Diego where they raise them organically on a diet of honey and oats. They’re so good that the owner will sometimes eat them fresh out of the bin.

Q: I know that you didn’t eat bugs alone. Who were your partners in crime, and how did you convince them to join you?

A: Kathleen Fox, Jocelyn Rish, and Kami Kinard have been my critique partners for years and years. They all write kid lit as well, so they were curious. Kathleen grew up in a very hippie household, so she was all in. Jocelyn writes funny horror, and I think she kind of likes to scare herself. And Kami was just very generous of heart, although she couldn’t make herself try the earthworm jerky. It was just friendship. Really, really good friendship.

Q: So what did you make?

A: We made the cricket tacos first. The crickets were five weeks old, so they had a tender exoskeleton, not thick or chewy. I sautéed them with butter and salt.

Q: Wait, when they came in the mail, were they alive?

A: They arrived alive, chirping away in the house until I put them in the freezer. Before I could cook them, I had to thaw them. It was funny—I took them out of the freezer and I had the windows open, and all of a sudden I heard chirping. My first reaction was, They’re waking up! I have zombie crickets in my house! But no, it was just the crickets outside the window.

Q: You made cricket tacos . . . how were they?

A: Well, when you put anything on a taco, it’s good. I made a vegetarian taco filling and put the crickets on top. Jocelyn got a leg stuck in her teeth. She was not excited about that, but it was funny.

Q: I just bet she wasn’t. What did you make next?

A: We took a break, and then we made the waxworm cookies. Waxworms are harder. They come in a bed of sawdust, and you have to freeze them and then sort them out from the sawdust—but do it quickly, because they thaw very quickly. After a while, it became very clear that these were caterpillar larvae—they’re actually the larvae of the wax moth. They had a soft, squishy texture, very much like maggots. If my friends hadn’t had to handle the raw larvae, I think they might have enjoyed the cookies more.

Q: Wow. How did the waxworm cookies taste?

A: To me, they truly did taste like walnuts. The texture was chewy, like old, stale walnuts. I thought, These are cookies that I would pretty much eat. I’m not sure that Jocelyn or Kami would, but Kathleen asked, Where do I get these? Not as a joke, either—she wanted to make them for her friends.

Q: So . . . are you a committed entomophagist now?

A: Intellectually I’m on board, but I still have the very American reaction of, eeeww, that’s a bug. I get why bug eating is good, I’m behind it 100%, but then there’s the reality of maggots in my hand. I think this conflict parallels some of what Will is dealing with, becoming friends with someone who is ethnically different. There’s the idealism that everyone should be treated equally—but then Will makes assumptions about Eloy, like that he’s poor, when in reality Eloy is better off than Will. Will has to think about where his assumptions come from, and he has these mini-confrontations with himself throughout the book. He knows what’s right, but that space between knowing the right thing and doing the right thing can feel pretty wide sometimes.

BIO

Rebecca Petruck is the author of the middle grade novels Steering Toward Normal (Amulet, 2014) and Will Nolan Eats Bugs (Amulet, Fall 2017). Steering Toward Normal is a Blue Ribbon winner as a Best Book of 2014 by the BCCB, an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices selection, as well as a Kids Indie Next List title. Vanity Fair’s Hollywood dubbed it a “book we’d like to see made into a film,” and the L.A. Times included Steering Toward Normal in its Summer Books Preview.

Rebecca is a Minnesota girl, though she also has lived in Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, England, Connecticut and, currently, North Carolina. A former member of 4-H, she was also a Girl Scout, a cheerleader, and competed in MathCounts. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction, from UNC Wilmington, and is represented by Kate Testerman of kt literary.

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