Hallie and Jaye are both sixth graders at Brookdale Middle School, but they couldn't be more different. Jaye is one of the popular kids who'll do almost anything to maintain her status. Hallie's only friend has moved away, and she couldn't care less what anyone thinks of her. So when the two girls are paired up as partners for a pitch competition held by their Business Education and Entrepreneurship class, it's not exactly a perfect match. After all, Jaye doesn't want to be seen with the kid who was dubbed "Bug Girl" after eating a fried cricket during a class trip to the zoo!
But the pair are stuck together, and soon enough Jaye is also stuck with Hallie's idea: finding creative ways to sell bugs as food. Jaye's not thrilled but is willing to give it a shot, since winners get to compete in the county competition, potentially followed by states and nationals. And Jaye wants to win.
As the competition heats up, can Hallie and Jaye make the judges say "Bug appétit!" or will they only hear crickets?
Based on the true story of a sustainable protein start-up company, this illustrated novel is a reimagining for a middle-grade reader. Chirps founders Rose Wang and Laura D'Asaro met as freshmen at Harvard University and cooked up the concept of selling chips made with cricket flour to help Americans feel more comfortable eating bugs. Together, Rose and Laura appeared on the TV show Shark Tank to pitch their idea and landed a deal with Mark Cuban. Chirps chips are now sold in stores across the nation.
About the Author
Vanessa Flores began drawing at the age of three, inspired by animated movies and books. Summers in Puerto Rico fueled her love for mountains and magic. She loves illustrating humor, magical realism, and representing her Dominican and Puerto Rican culture through the art of storytelling. Vanessa currently lives in Orlando, Florida, where she enjoys trying new food and meditating in botanical gardens. www.vanessafloresart.com.
Read an Excerpt
Have you ever heard of the butterfly effect?
A butterfly in Brazil flaps its wings, and that tiny motion creates small changes in the atmosphere. Those changes make other, bigger weather changes and so on until eventually a tornado barrels through some random town far away in Oklahoma. If you live there, your life literally gets turned upside down. And it’s all because a small butterfly flapped its wings thousands of miles away.
One seemingly unimportant thing can make big changes.
That happened to me the first time I ate a bug. Everything changed. Not just for me—for Jaye, too.
Only we didn’t know it then.
I’ve eaten a thousand bugs by now. I’ve had them fried and sautéed. I’ve baked them into cookies. I’ve mashed them into guacamole and sprinkled them on yogurt. I’ve had them with hot sauce, with melted cheese, and with chocolate. (When it comes to bugs, dark chocolate beats milk chocolate, in case you’re wondering.)
My first bug was just a regular, plain bug. I hadn’t planned to eat it. But sometimes you do a totally unexpected thing, and it sparks ideas and brings people together in wild ways.
As I said, total butterfly effect.
But with a cricket.
“Ewww! That’s the grossest thing ever!”
Even though I stood on the far side of the exhibit, it didn’t take any great genius to know who was squealing. The chorus of giggles and gasps gave Erica Sanchez away. Erica is the girl in our grade who kids orbit around like backup singers, providing a soundtrack of constant approval.
“That chimp is picking bugs out of the other chimp’s hair and eating them!” cried Erica.
All eyes turned to the three chimps sitting on the tree limb. I chewed my lip as I watched them groom one another with their humanlike fingers. Their enclosure at the Brookdale Zoo was supposed to mimic a rain forest. I seriously doubted these chimps thought this was any kind of real rain forest.
I’m not sure how I feel about zoos. When I see the animals trapped inside the cages, I get supremely sad. But I do like watching them. Is that bad? I mean, they’re just so amazing. The chimps have the sweetest-looking eyes.
The summer I was six, I visited the zoo all the time. Dad’s a photographer, and he was working on a series that showed an animal in the zoo and then the same animal living the free life outdoors. Dad’s photographs make statements. They’re dramatic. Eye-opening. I like that. I’m all for making statements.
“Sanchez, don’t move!” Spencer Montan screamed loud enough for the whole sixth grade to hear. He reached his finger into Erica’s long, dark braid.
“I’ve got it.” Spencer cupped his hands together. They twitched as if something inside was fighting to get free.
“What is it?” Erica’s brown eyes widened with fear. “Was it on me?”
Spencer smirked mischievously, keeping his hands shut tight.
I edged closer.
“Ewww!” Samara Matthews shuddered dramatically.
“Gross,” echoed Jaye Wu. She twisted a strand of her long black hair tightly around her finger.
Neither of them could’ve possibly seen what he’d captured, but that didn’t matter. Jaye and Samara traveled in Erica’s shadow, oohing and aahing as if on cue. From what I could tell, Jaye always seemed to be a beat behind Samara. Of course, I barely knew them. It was only the end of September, so most of us at Brookdale Middle School hadn’t ventured far from our elementary-school groups.
Not that I’ve ever had a group. I’m not a group-friend kind of person.
It was always just me and Zara—we liked it like that. But Zara moved to Canada this summer. We tried to convince her parents not to go. We even painted a massive sign on a bedsheet that said “Let Zara Stay!” and hung it in front of their house. It was my idea to make a public statement.
It didn’t work.
They went anyway and took Zara with them. So it’s just me now.
I watched Spencer and Erica out of the corner of my eye. I was curious about what was jumping inside Spencer’s hands.
“Do you want to see? One . . . two . . . three!” He raised his hands and opened them wide.
I didn’t see anything. I blinked, sure I’d missed it.
“There’s nothing there.” Erica wrinkled her snub nose.
“Gotcha!” Spencer doubled over with laughter. “You totally fell for it, Sanchez.”
“My man!” Raul Cortez slapped Spencer a high five.
Erica gave Spencer a playful shove. He grinned stupidly at her.
I turned back to the chimps. Spencer was an idiot.
“My students, over here.” Mrs. Marcelli clapped her hands several times for attention. “We’re heading to the Reptile Rotunda.”
“My classes, follow me.” Mrs. Stein didn’t clap or raise her voice. The sixth-graders who had Mrs. Stein for science already knew not to mess with her. She was always complaining about the amount of material we had to cover. She banned questions that were off topic, because they ate into the time she’d allotted for the lesson.
That’s a huge problem for me. I mean, why bother going to school if you can’t ask questions? I could just sit home and read a book. Albert Einstein said it’s important to be “passionately curious,” and I totally agree. Guess who’s my least favorite teacher?
“Where are we going?” I asked as I followed Mrs. Stein down several zoo pathways.
“The Bug House.” Mrs. Stein stopped outside a terra-cotta building with a sign that exclaimed “Abuzz with Wonder!” She held up her hand like a traffic guard. “Wait for the others, Hallie.”
I pulled my listbook and my cobalt blue pen from my backpack. School involves massive amounts of waiting and lining up, so I carry my listbook everywhere. It’s a small black notebook with thick, creamy paper. My dad bought an enormous carton of them on sale years ago, and we’ve got dozens still piled in the corner of our dining room. I fill them with lists. Lists let you see everything swirling around in your brain.
I flipped back a few pages to the ones I’d made this week:
- Mythical Creatures I Most Want to Meet
(griffin is #1)
- Most Excellent Condiments
(sriracha pulls top honors)
- Animals I’d Turn Into If I Could Shape-Shift
(liger wins, but cheetah is a close second)
I started a new list:
Cool Things I Know about Insects
•1. Their bodies have 3 parts: a head,thorax, and abdomen.
•2. They have 6 legs. So spiders (8 legs!)and worms (no legs!) aren’t insects.
•3. They have 2 antennae.
“Why’s it called a thorax?” I asked Mrs. Stein.
“I bet we can find someone inside who can answer you.” Mrs. Stein pushed open the door.
I shut my listbook, tucked it into my backpack, and stepped into the darkness. My eyes took a minute to focus on the dozens of terraria set into the walls. Each housed different bugs—stick insects, ants, roaches, and beetles.
“Gather round, kids.” A tall guy with wire-rimmed glasses and messy blond hair stood in the center of the large room. He wore a khaki shirt with the zoo’s logo on the front. “I’m Dr. Bugatti, but everyone calls me Dr. Bug.”
I laughed. So did a bunch of other kids.
“I’m an entomologist—that’s a scientist who studies bugs,” said Dr. Bug. “Everyone, be as quiet as you can and listen.” A gradual chorus of buzzing and chirping rose up from the different corners of the room. Dr. Bug walked us past the different displays—a tarantula crawling on a rock, a praying mantis camouflaged by a leaf, and caterpillars that would soon transform into monarch butterflies.
My eyes kept going back to the enormous tarantula. It looked strangely cuddly, like a pet. I had this weird desire to touch its furry body. As I watched it take tiny steps, I completely tuned out Dr. Bug and the class as they examined colorful beetles. When I’m interested in something, I commit fully (sometimes too fully, my mom says).
“Okay, now my favorite part. Snack time!” announced Dr. Bug. “Who wants to eat insects?”
That got my attention. I whirled around to see Dr. Bug lift a small box off a shelf.
“Seriously? You want us to eat bugs?” Ava Baltimore shook her head so violently, her braids quivered.
“I do. They’re delicious.” Dr. Bug smiled broadly, but I could tell he wasn’t joking. He held out the box, and we crowded closer. Crickets was written on the side in colorful bubble letters. A little window revealed small brown insects inside. “You may think this is strange, but it’s not. Around the world, more people eat insects than speak English. They are an important and sustainable food source, especially as the world’s population explodes and there’s not enough clean water or land to feed so many humans. Think of crickets like land shrimp. Shrimp and lobster are really just giant sea bugs.”
Erica groaned. “That doesn’t help.”
“What if they crawl around in your mouth?” asked Owen Locke.
“Won’t happen, my friend. These crickets aren’t alive. They’ve been fried and seasoned. As I said, they’re quite delicious.” Dr. Bug smacked his lips. “Any takers?”
Everyone grew very quiet. I stared at the box. I’d never considered eating a bug before, but I was curious what a cricket would taste like. Squishy? Crunchy?
My parents once took me to a French restaurant and ordered escargot (which is a fancy word for snails). I ate those in a butter-garlic sauce, and they weren’t half-bad, so I figured there was no real difference. Besides, a bug is so tiny. Eating it didn’t seem like a big deal.
I raised my hand and stepped forward. “I’ll try one.”
Who said that? I stood on my tiptoes, twisting toward the back of the room. I scanned all the faces. Who here would actually eat a cricket?
Spencer caught my eye and made a loud gagging noise. He didn’t even trying to disguise it. Other kids snickered.
I knew Spencer would never consider eating a bug. He wasn’t adventurous that way. He wouldn’t even try the xiao long bao or the jellyfish noodles my grandma made for lunch.
I tried to remember the last time he’d been at my house. Sometime last spring? He’d spent the summer away with his family at a lake and then went to soccer camp with Raul, Owen, and a bunch of other boys. Since then, he stopped hanging out with me unless we were in a group. And ever since school started, he’d been acting so different. Saying mean things.
“Come on up here, young lady.” Dr. Bug waved his arms, and we all cleared a path. Hallie Amberose confidently made her way toward the front.
“Figures,” sneered Spencer. “Hallie’s so weird.”
“Tragically weird,” added Raul.
Hallie’s in my Business Education and Entrepreneurship class. She sits near the window. I’ve never spoken a word to her. Even so, I desperately wanted to reach out, grab her and warn her that this wasn’t going to end well.
But I didn’t. Instead, I shoved my hands deep into my hoodie pockets and held my breath. It was like watching a car roll backward down a hill. She’d have to save herself.
“What on earth is she wearing?” Erica whispered loudly.
“I know, right?” I answered before Samara could.
Hallie wore denim overalls with streaks of silver paint along the cuffs. A bright yellow fanny pack decorated with absurdly large rhinestones was slung low around her waist. Sharpie swirls covered her maroon Converse. Her face was barely visible behind a mess of chestnut curls.
I rolled my eyes. This girl was majorly weird. It was like she didn’t care what anyone thought, which made absolutely no sense. I think about that all the time. Like every minute. Especially now that Spencer decided we should be part of Erica’s group. I needed to know the right thing to say. The right emoji to choose. The right jeans to wear.
Spencer and I used to not care what we said or wore or did. But this year, Spencer’s constantly declaring what’s cool and what’s not. So is Erica. I eyed Erica’s powder-blue jeans and striped short-sleeve Henley top. I also wore pale jeans. My top was solid navy, but the same style. I’ve made sure of that.
Even so, sometimes it feels like they don’t remember I’m there. Or not there.
Last week, Erica, Samara, Spencer, and Raul met up for ice cream and never told me. Erica apologized. She said they just forgot to ask me. No big deal. Spencer never said anything. Did he forget me, too? How is that even possible when we’ve been best friends since kindergarten?
Hallie stopped in front of Dr. Bug. We crowded closer until I was right behind her. The ends of her hair smelled like raspberries.
Dr. Bug lifted the lid off the box. He plucked out a small, pale brown cricket and placed it into Hallie’s outstretched hand.
The cricket was shriveled, but even in the dim light, its hard shell held a brilliant sheen.
Hallie inhaled sharply.
She’s going to back out. I giggled. I do that when I’m nervous. Relief flooded through me. She’ll pretend it was just a joke. It’s what I’d do.
I took a giant step away from her.
Then Hallie popped the whole cricket into her mouth. I heard the crunch as she bit down.
“I can’t even!”
“She ate it!”
The class erupted with gagging noises and groans. Mrs. Stein tried to restore order. She clapped her hands loudly.
Hallie swallowed, then grinned. “It’s good. Really good. It tasted like a spicy peanut.”
“Exactly right.” Dr. Bug gave her a fist bump.
“Bug Girl ate a nasty cricket!” Spencer whooped and then pretended to vomit.
“Spencer, that’s enough!” Mrs. Stein swooped in and pulled him off to the side.
Dr. Bug held out the box. “Anyone else?”
I wanted to step forward. Not to eat the crickets—I’d never do that. I just wanted to see them better. My parents are scientists, and I guess I get my curiosity from them.
I glanced over at Spencer, then over at Erica. For the rest of the year, Hallie would be “Bug Girl.” Maybe for the rest of her life. I didn’t need a label like that, too—it was enough that I was the only Chinese kid in the grade. I stayed where I was.
“No one else?” Dr. Bug shook his head in dismay, then presented the box to Hallie. “Lucky you. You get the rest to take home.”
“Thanks!” She seemed genuinely excited. “It’s a most excellent party favor.”
Erica snickered. So did the rest of the kids.
I stepped far away from Bug Girl.