Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







Buggy Night Before Christmas

Many modern children's books are about insects. Some are designed to teach children about nature. But others use insects to teach a moral or a lesson. Still other books for children use insects just for the fun of it.

The very first children's book written purely for whimsy included insects. It was a poem titled “The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast.” It appeared first in 1806 as a set of verses in Gentleman's Magazine in London. William Roscoe, who at the time was a member of Parliament for Liverpool, wrote the poem for his children. He was said to have been inspired by another set of verses by Clement Moore that are very well known and begin with the line “'Twas the night before Christmas!”

“The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast” begins with the lines:

“Come, take up your hats, and away let us haste to the Butterfly's Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast: The trumpeter, Gadfly, has summon'd the crew, and the revels are now only waiting for you.

“So said little Robert, and, pacing along, his merry companions came forth in a throng; and on the smooth grass, by the side of a wood, beneath a broad oak that for ages had stood, saw the children of earth and the tenants of air for an evening's amusement together repair.

“And there came the Beetle, so blind and so black, who carried the Emmet, his friend, on his back;

“And there was the Gnat and the Dragonfly too, with all their relations, green, orange, and blue;

“And there came the Moth, with his plumage of down, and the Hornet, in jacket of yellow and brown, who with him the Wasp, his companion, did bring, but they promised that evening to lay by their sting.”

The book not only introduced whimsy to children's literature, it was also the first children's book with colored pictures. The pictures were all hand-colored by groups of children working in sequence, with each adding a particular color to the picture.

More recently “The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast” has been remade. This version, by Alan Aldridge, was published in 1973. The detailed and beautiful illustrations by William Plomer make the modern version a delight to children. But then insects always delight children; it takes adults to teach kids not to like insects. So away let us haste to the Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast.


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann