By George Reagan
Illustrations by Lucia Benito
Published by CreateSpace 3/18/2014
Age 7 to 9 56 pages
“Nine-year-old Brandon Phillips loves insects of all kinds. When he chooses to study stinkbugs for the 4th Grade Science Fair, he learns there is more to these peculiar creatures than meets the eye—or the nose! Join Brandon as he begins the exciting journey of learning about and becoming best friends with Walter, a stinkbug that is no pest at all, along the way the two buddies embark on new adventures and learn valuable lessons about life.”
“Oh no! The invasion has begun! I really hate this time of year.”
Tawny, Brandon’s sister, hates stinkbugs—any insect, really—but Brandon loves this time of year when all things insect embark upon the world. Much to Tawny’s disgust, Brandon begins catching stinkbugs for his science fair project. He plans to study why stinkbugs act differently than other bugs act, yet he has no other bug to compare with the stinkbug. Tawny sneaks a label onto Brandon’s greenhouse stinkbug home—a hamster cage—calling it the Stinkitorium and the name sticks.
Brandon’s science fair does not go as planned, but he does return home with one remaining stinkbug: the stinkbug that followed Brandon around, watching his moves. Walter, the name Brandon gave this mysterious bug, could also speak to Brandon. We find this out more than halfway into the story. From this point on, any physical action stops. The story becomes a conversation between Brandon and Walter. We learn that Walter is not a stinkbug, which would explain why he could survive a flush down a toilet.
In reality, Walter is an alien sent to protect Brandon from alien forces out to destroy Earth. According to Walter, humans are not capable of fighting this alien, but he and the other stinkbug-aliens can. This also means we humans need to stop flushing stinkbugs down the toilet. The story ends with Brandon feeling safe with Walter’s presence and protection. The danger still lurks, apparently waiting for book two.
The Stinkbug Chronicles #1: The Invasion has Begun could become a good chapter book series if the writing—which is rather good—actually told the story, the story the title suggests, rather than meandering with introductions. The Invasion has Begun could have gotten off to a bang-up start. Nothing close to an invasion happens, though Walter does speak of an invasion.
It takes over half the book just to find out Walter can speak. This should have occurred early in the story. All the early chapters—6 ½ out of 8—revolve around catching stinkbugs for a failed science project, which is unneeded backstory. Weave this into the story later, if a reason should present itself. Get right into the story: Walter can talk, is an alien, and here to protect Brandon from an impending alien invasion. Get on with the invasion that “has begun.” Yes, I do realize it has a double meaning: the invasion of bug season/invasion by aliens bent on destroying Earth. The story ends on a down note of Brandon stating he feels safe from an impending invasion. Boring! The ending should have me anxious to read book #2: Don’t Let that Bully Bug You! I should end the story wanting to read more, wanting to know what will happen next. I felt none of those things.
The Invasion has Begun felt like a safe story. A story to test the waters. Granted one of the main characters is a stinkbug, not your everyday leading man. The stinkbug angle gives the story intrigue before a word is ever read. It made me curious. So curious, in fact, that I read the book just minutes after opening the postal bag. I hate stinkbugs, and yes, they go right into the toilet for a one-time swimming lesson that each one fails. Walter would have been back in my living room taunting me, and I would be happy to have him. I like Walter. I believe this is the first story I have ever read with a stinkbug as protagonist and may be the only book ever to have such a co-leading character. Take advantage of this. Get Walter in the story pronto.
The Invasion has Begun, a new chapter book series, is well written, if off topic. Writing a good story takes more than great writing. It takes writing a story that matches the title—or a title that matches the story. I thought the story would climax at the science fair, but that ended without fanfare. As a reader, I feel cheated. Will I believe the next book will finally involve the impeding invasion? No. From what I have read, book 2 is about Brandon and a school bully—not about an alien invasion as referenced in book 1. I’m afraid this entire series, which might be good as standalone books, never addresses the alien invasion that Walter has come to protect Brandon. Instead, the series diverts into message stories. The stinkbug Walter is nothing but an analogy. From a PR Mr. Reagan placed on Piece of Cake PR:
“I’ll be using the stinkbug analogy to draw young readers’ attention to a range of important issues they might encounter at home, at school or in the neighbourhood. These will include bullying, good sportsmanship, protecting the environment and understanding children with Asperger’s Syndrome; everything will be addressed in a fun and light-hearted approach, even if the final message is quite a serious one,” says Reagan.
Would I like to read book 2? Yes, I thought I would, until realizing that the setup in book 1 is nothing but a red herring. As I said, the writing is very good, but kids expect consistency. Tell them the series is about an impending invasion and a little alien who has come to protect a kid, and that is the story they expect to continue reading. Not life lessons. Not school bullies—unless they are the attacking aliens. “Life lessons” may find their way into the story, but as the only the reason for the story? Book 1 sets up an impending invasion. I feel cheated, as will kids. Kids will feel cheated and not care about book 3. I’m not even sure this is a series as the story does not continue in the next book, and probably goes off subject again in the third book.
The Stinkbug Chronicles could become a new, well-received chapter book series. The idea is different and unusual. But once you state that Walter is there because of an impending invasion and to protect Brandon from that invasion, you must stay on point. Kids will be disappointed.
THE STINKBUG CHRONICLES #1: THE INVASION HAS BEGUN! Text copyright © 2014 by George Reagan. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Lucia Benito. Reproduce by permission of the publisher, George Reagan, Gloucester MA.
Learn more about The Stinkbug Chronicles HERE.
Also by George Reagan
Also by Lucia Benito