by Jennifer Angus
a surreal, Victorian adventure full of mysterious surprises in unusual places
Henri’s dad has been gone for three years and missing for two. Sent to British Malaya as the superintendent of a rubber plantation, he had, so the story went, one day just walked into the jungle and vanished. Unable to believe that possible, Henri’s mom decided to travel there to see for herself and that is how Henri came to be at Woodland Farm in America living with Great Aunt Georgie and her button collection.
It was rather boring being 10 and alone in middle of nowhere. Of course the farm had lots of places to explore, but that only went so far when there is no one to explore it with. And talking? Well, the only person to converse with as 90-year old, Great Aunt Georgie and she only talked about buttons. She shared interesting tidbits like the oldest button was five thousand years old or buttons were first used to fasten clothing in Germany in the thirteenth century. Interesting, but rather dull and right now it was raining. As he looked out the window, Henri was aware of a fly bumping into it over and over. He thought it was annoying so he asked the fly to stop. It did. Then he noticed another fly moving across the newspaper line by line as if it were reading. He watched for a bit until it said, “It’s rude to read over someone’s shoulder you know.” Before Henri could fully believe it, he’d had complete conversation with the fly, which could in fact read. Henri wasn’t sure he believed it, but suddenly the world was no longer full of chirps and creaks – each one had meaning. It was true. Henri could communicate with insects.
When the circus came to town Henri was drawn to Maestro Antonio’s Amazing Flying Flea Circus. Although a small sideshow, Henri was sure he could help it become the “greatest show on earth.” Antonio agreed to let him try and so Henri ran away to join the circus. But not before meeting Great Aunt Georgie’s neighbor, Agatha Black. Her coldhearted cruelty filled Henri with dread that didn’t seem to fully go away even when he thought he had left her behind.
Joining the circus is just the beginning of Henri’s transformation from lonely boy to ambassador to the insect world. Henri is thoughtful and creative. He appreciates the gifts of every creature whether a flea or a queen. They appreciate this kindness and because of it support his quest to discover the truth behind the story of the largest beetle in the world. Reading In Search of Goliathus Hercules will keep you turning the pages to the very end. There are some remaining questions and some places where the plot is stretched a little thin, but for insect-loving readers (and even those who feel a little squeamish at the thought) this is totally entertaining adventure from start to finish. I also love the kaleidoscope of insects that begins each chapter and the connecting information that begins each part of the book.