Some people think it is easy to write for children, and those people are fools. You have to express a great deal in very few words, keep your imagery simple but rich, and, ideally, entertain while educating. Writing non-fiction for children is even trickier—do you entertain and risk only getting a few facts across, or do you run down a list of facts and get relegated to being solely useful as school report fodder?
We Dig Worms! is a fabulous and rare example of what children’s books should be. It is extremely well-paced with an effortless sense of rhythm (“Excuse me, Mister Worm… Do you have a big family?” “Oh yes, One worm can have 100 babies!”). The story of worms unfolds as a sort of conversation between the omniscient narrator, a group of worm-observing kids, the worms themselves, and a hungry bluebird. We learn about their anatomy, their diet, how they help enrich the soil, and the variety of species from the aquatic to the ten-footers. And it’s all done in a brisk, efficient, 40 pages. Every idea is communicated with as few words as possible, but piques one’s curiosity in a way that may lead to further questions and annelid explorations.
Of course, since this is a Toon Book, We Dig Worms! doesn’t skimp on looking good. McCloskey illustrated the book on paper bags and the tannish-brown background gives the perfect earthy tone to the tale. Pink squirmy worms pop delightfully off the page, the wacky bluebird flies in and out of frame, and richly painted garden flowers top a maze of worm tunnels as the book draws to a close. No page is panelled exactly like the last, making for a gleeful element of surprise while reading. I wouldn’t quite call this a full fledged comic-book, since it’s not really paneled per se, but it’s definitely not a straight picture book either. And this, too, adds to its delightful and accessible pacing, offering the best elements of both.
Kevin McCloskey wrote this book because his librarian wife asked him to come up with a book to increase interest in worms (because why not?). I think it’s fair to say he’s accomplished this. Early readers, older kids, and adults alike will learn something new and have a good time doing so. It’s not an encylopedic tome on every single thing one might want to know about worms, but it’s a great start. This would be an excellent companion piece to a school unit on worms, science report fodder, or just a personal introduction to one of nature’s great, overlooked, underground wonders—the mighty, the marvelous, the mud-munching worm. McCloskey will hopefully have you saying, as I certainly did after finishing this book, I dig worms!
We Dig Worms!
by Kevin McCloskey
Toon Books, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 4-8 years