When I found out that the seventeen-year periodical cicadas were coming to Washington, D.C. in the spring of 2004, I immediately thought of my two-year-old daughter, Evie. She was terrified of bugs. She would beg to leave the playground if a tiny gnat landed on the slide. How would she react to billions of bugs emerging from the ground?
On a road trip to visit my sister in North Carolina, I told my mom, Patsy, that I wanted a children’s book to explain the phenomenon of the periodical cicadas to Evie. There were some non-fiction books available, but I wanted something fun and light. My mom turned to me and said, “Well, we have eight hours in the car right now. Let’s write it!” I dug through my purse and found a pen, but we didn’t have any paper in the car. I found an empty cereal box on the floor (sometimes it helps to have a messy car) and tore it in half. We composed the book on scraps of cardboard while Evie played with her Polly Pocket dolls in the back of the car.
Cecily Cicada is the story of a fictional cicada named Cecily. She starts off in her “dreary, earthen hole ‘neath the sassafras tree” and tries to entertain herself as she waits seventeen years to rise to the surface of the ground. Then, one evening in May “she awoke with a start. This was the moment, she knew in her heart!” She digs to the surface and climbs up the sassafras tree to shed her exoskeleton. The story continues with Cecily learning to fly and listening to the “glorious sound” of the other cicadas.
By using rhyme and whimsical illustrations, we made Cecily’s story fun for young children. We also wanted them to consider how special it is to get to see the cicadas. At the end, we write:
When you see a cicada please give her a smile
‘Cause you may not see one again for a while.
Just look at the grown-up who’s reading to you;
When the cicadas come back, you’ll be grown up too!
Reading Cecily Cicada may not be enough to help adults who suffer from real phobias of bugs. But for young children looking to understand the cicadas, it might just help. Because writing Cecily Cicada got me excited about the coming cicadas, Evie became excited about them too. By the time Brood X left, she was declaring that she wanted to be an entomologist when she grew up.
Now Evie is eleven years old. She dreams of being an actress instead of an entomologist, but she has maintained a healthy relationship with bugs. Unfortunately, we live in Colorado and will miss the “cicada apocalypse” coming to the east coast this spring. But I hope that Cecily Cicada will help some children out there to understand these special creatures.
co-author Cecily Cicada