Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Love: The Chinese Bug

Many of the books that I had when I was young are now in the my daughter's bookshelf. One of the books I remember being enchanted by was a book called The Chinese Bug written by Byrd Baylor Schweitzer. Now that I'm reading it to my daughter I have a new appreciation for the illustrations as well as the story.

The story follows a little boy named Joey who, on the first day of summer decided he had to dig a hole to China.

The dust jacket, if there was one, is long since gone. There is a small gold debossed illustration on the orange linen cover.

You get the feel that the location is in New York because Joey has no backyard, sandbox or square of earth of his own to dig in, although it could be any major metropolitan area.

Three of the four colours used on this spread. I'm really in love with this illustration style.

Luckily for Joey a kind grocery store clerk gives him permission to use a small piece of dirt near his store. With a kitchen spoon and a broken hoe, Joey digs and digs, ignoring all the naysayers around him. In the end he uncovers a bug with glistening yellow silk wings which Joey knows was digging up from China to find him.

Layered colour without exact registration feels loose and expressive. With only four colours you still get a sense of the twinkling of the butterfly.

Through the entire book Joey is running around in his bare feet and I get the impression that he is nearly always covered in dirt and loving every minute of it. The imagination of this little boy and the penchant for being dirty and shoeless in the summer reminds me of myself how I spent most of my days when I was little.

The illustration style is what brought me back to this book, 25 years later. The illustrator, Beatrice Darwin, uses only 4 colours, red, yellow, black and brown. The colours are layered so it feels like a linocut print, or, perhaps, a silkscreen. Coloured areas are done in a quick and block like manner and the registration doesn't appear perfect, but it works very well.

If I can keep this book from being over-loved with my two daughters, I'd love to pass on this 1968, first run book for their kids. It may seem ancient by then, but I hope the idea of imagination and perseverance carries through.



  1. I loved it when books were made with old printing techniques..and so only had a few colors....Love that!!

    My kids and stepkids...tried to dig a hole to China in our backyard, and with five of them...they actually got about 10 feet deep and a 6 foot diameter...

    That house has sold too...but we have the memories...

  2. Beautiful book! Like the colours used and the illustrations are fabulous. I'm in the process of carving stamps of birds at the moment, in preparation for my sketchbook project. I love the way she has used dark birds for the foreground and the white silhouettes for behind - great way to add depth. That sweet embossed illustration on the cover just tops it all off. What a lovely treasure to be ablet to share with your kids from your own childhood!


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