Butterflies Are Pretty . . . Gross: A Q&A with Rosemary Mosco
In my line of work it is a blessing to have the sense of humor of a 9-year-old child. That way, when you read somewhere that on April 6th a book with the title Butterflies Are Pretty . . . Gross will be hitting bookstore shelves everywhere, you feel called to respond. I took one look at that title and it was instant love. Butterflies. Grossness. What could be better? So I gave the folks at Tundra a ring, asked if I could speak to author Rosemary Mosco and lo and behold they complied.
And so . . . .
Betsy Bird: First and foremost I must compliment you on a stellar title. Was it your idea? Because it’s just so marvelously eye-catching.
Rosemary Mosco: Thank you! It was partly my idea – I was tentatively calling it “Butterflies are Pretty, But Also Pretty Gross” which is too long. But my brilliant and funny editor Elizabeth Kribs helped me make it much better.
BB: So right off the bat this is a cool idea for a book. We see plenty of titles about gross animals, but surprisingly few about pretty AND gross animals. Where did you get the idea for this one?
RM: I got deeply into butterflies about 10 years ago. I photograph them, I read books about them, and I’ve even been to butterfly-themed festivals! But a few years ago, I heard a person say that they weren’t into butterflies because they’re just pretty and boring. That didn’t match my experiences. I’ve encountered carnivorous butterflies, butterflies that drink pee, and butterflies that look like bird poop. I realized that my beloved butterflies are the perfect critters to help teach people about nature’s full complexity and beauty. Animals – and people, too – are complicated and multifaceted.
BB: I was feeling pretty pleased with myself as I read through this. I know that there were butterflies with fake butts, yep. And butterflies that taste with their feet, yep. I even knew about the caterpillar that disguises itself like bird poop but I did NOT know about the caterpillar that convinces ants to take care of it. Or the butterflies that drink tears. That’s never cropped up in one of my books before! Where did you find all these facts?
I have a background as a science writer, and I did a ton of research for this book. I read books and scientific papers. I spoke with butterfly scientists, including Naomi Pierce, who studies those ant-convincing butterflies, and Phil Torres, who encountered butterflies drinking turtle tears. The hardest part was choosing the most appropriate and interesting facts. There’s so much more than I could fit in the book.
BB: Were there any facts you had to leave on the cutting room floor and just didn’t make it into the book?
RM: Hah, you read my mind! There were facts that were just too extreme and complicated – some butterfly caterpillars trick ants into carrying them back to their nests, but then the caterpillars eat the baby ants. Yikes. There are also butterflies that make absurdly long migrations. One species travels across Europe and down over the Sahara Desert. And there’s the complex evolutionary warfare between monarch butterflies and the milkweed plants that they eat. That’s a great story, but it’s worth a book all of its own.
BB: I know you aren’t allowed to choose favorites, but c’mon. Be honest. What’s your own personal favorite gross butterfly fact?
RM: This isn’t the most disgusting fact, but it’s my favorite. Many butterflies have “butts” that look like heads. Their hind wings have little faces on them, with eyes and long antennae! When you spook these butterflies, they land with their fake head pointing up, and they shimmy those wings to try to get a predator to bite that end. If they lose part of their wing, they can still fly. I’ve seen the butterflies do this shimmy dance in the wild and it’s always amazing.
BB: Love that art from Jacob Souva. Did you have a particular style in mind as you wrote? How do you feel about the final product?
RM: I’m beyond thrilled. Jacob nailed the style I was going for. When I saw his sketches of the main character, I was amazed because they looked like what I’d imagined. And of course Jacob brought his own incredible style and infused the images with hilarious details that reward a closer look. I feel honored that I got to work with him!
BB: Just one last question for you here – what are you working on next?
RM: There’s another book in this Nature’s Top Secrets series. It’s about something equally pretty – and equally weird. Stay tuned. I also make nature cartoons for my site Birdandmoon.com. I’m just steeped in funny flora and fauna over here, and I feel very lucky.
Many thanks to Rosemary for answering my questions and to Samantha Devotta of Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers for setting this up! Butterflies Are Pretty . . . Gross is on shelves everywhere April 6th.
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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