Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

New book recalls boy's unusual best friends

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Chris Rossi/The Gazette
Davy Shian has written a book about cicadas, his boyhood friends.

First-time author Davy Shian played with cicadas for hours as a young child. His family didn't have much money for toys, and cicadas were abundant and entertaining.

In his new book, "Cicada: Exotic Views," the Derwood resident pays proper homage to his childhood friends with a unique combination of cartoons, photographs and educational tidbits.

These oft-detested insects may be clumsy fliers and lack butterfly beauty, Shian observes, but they don't bite, sting, pinch or destroy expensive landscaping. They may, in fact, be able to teach us a little bit about ourselves.

"In many ways, how we view cicadas is quite similar to how we treat people we do not understand," Shian writes. "When we are not familiar with someone or something, we often view them with suspicion, misgiving, misunderstanding, or even discrimination."

Like the author, the main character Dave has loved cicadas since childhood. Dave takes on the responsibility of citing the cicada's winning qualities for the other characters.

"It does not covet wheat and rice so it is honest," Dave says. "It lives without housing so it is frugal. It has a sense of timing and therefore is dependable. It is an insect with the most virtue."

The cast of characters ranges from the cicada-lover to the frightened cicada observer to the red-eyed wonders themselves.

Shian writes with a healthy dose of humor. In one scene, a nymph is trying to shed its shell and become an adult cicada. A human wants to watch, but the bug gets embarrassed like a teenager would.

"Do you mind?" he asks. "Some privacy please? I can't shed when I'm being watched."

One cicada character notes that flying in circles is the best way to avoid being caught and eaten by a bird.

Another character argues that cicadas are good for the economy when they are in season. Souvenir shops sell cicada shirts and trinkets, cicada nets are popular and car washes are mobbed because people need to get rid of the bug bodies.

Each page has a new comic strip and addresses a new topic. The illustrations are expressive and humorous, and the eyes of the human characters appropriately bulge as much as their insect co-stars. The story has no narrative arc, but doesn't need one. It is simply a collection of short comic strips, strung together by a common theme.

Charts map out the cycles and locations of the different 13- and 17-year broods, and pictures show cicada larvae and cicadas shedding their skin and spreading their wings.

While this may sound ideal for the younger set, parents be warned that the book contains an innocuous joke about sex and a picture of cicadas mating. While the joke will likely go over youngsters' heads, don't pull this out to read to your 6-year-old unless you're prepared to get into the birds and the bees talk.

There's nothing much to dislike about cicadas, just as there's not much to dislike in Shian's combination of humor, art and factoids.

"Cicada: Exotic Views" is a great way to spend way to spend an hour or two on a Sunday morning. It is likely to leave you feeling a little better about the world than the war stories and disaster headlines in the newspaper.

"Cicada: Exotic Views," written by Davy Shian and illustrated by Wang Xing, self-published through Hebei Fine Arts Publishing House, can be purchased at