The Secret Life of the Woolly Bear Caterpillar by Laurence Pringle

woolly bearLynn:  I know this is Mystery Month but trust me, there IS a mystery connection to this charming bug book.  Most kids will recognize the chubby black and orange striped caterpillar so commonly seen trundling around in late-summer to early fall.  Folklore about them is plentiful too about them predicting a harsh or mild winter depending on the width of the orange or black stripes.  There are woolly bear festivals and even a “Running of the Worms” race in Banner Elk, NC!  I remember as a kid having unofficial woolly bear races across a picnic table, each kid carefully cultivating a “stable” of contestants.  What WAS a mystery to me is the amazing secret life of woolly bears.  Why do we only see them in the fall?  Where do they live?  What do they turn into?

mystery-month-2014Fortunately Laurence Pringle has come to our rescue with The Secret Life of the Woolly Bear Caterpillar (Boyds Mills 2014).  The story follows a particular woolly bear called Bella and opens our eyes to Bella’s hidden life.  The Banded Woolly Bear Caterpillar is around all summer but is hidden from view by the grasses and wild flowers.  Bella molts 4-5 times during the summer.  Each time she molts she gets bigger and each time her orange stripe gets wider.  In the fall Bella stops eating and sets off on a journey and that is when she is easy to see and find.  She is looking for a safe shelter to spend the winter!  Yes, the woolly bear winters over!   With glycerol in her body, she sleeps the winter away and it is in the spring that she will turn into a beautiful Isabella Tiger Moth, lay eggs and begin the cycle all over again.  Amazing!

Pringle’s text is clear, informative and very child-friendly, drawing examples from familiar scenarios.  He does use scientific terms like mandible and frass but they are well explained in context and a glossary at the end provides more assistance.  I loved Joan Paley’s illustrations that are done in cut paper and mixed media.  Brightly colored with blocky shapes, they use varying perspectives from close up to watching from above.  In all of them Bella is the star of the show, munching her way across the page, marching single-minded across a road or curled up in a winter sleep.

Pringle also provides some wonderful back matter including more information about the Banded Woolly Bear, and a helpful diagram of the caterpillar’s body as well as discussing the various folklore about woolly bears and weather predictions.

There you have it – mystery solved!  And it is no mystery that this is a book that will find an eager audience in classrooms and libraries everywhere!




About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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