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At 7, She Was Bullied for Her Love of Bugs; Now She's Published a Book About Being 'The Bug Girl'

After 7-year-old Sophia Spencer was bullied for loving bugs, women in entomology around the world rallied to her support; now she's published a picture book about her experience.

When 7-year-old Sophia Spencer was bullied for her love of bugs, women in entomology around the world rallied to her support. Now, four years later, the 11-year-old Mighty Girl has just published a picture book, The Bug Girl: A True Story, to share her story with other kids who feel different because of their passions. And Sophia hopes they take away one very powerful message from her experience: "You can follow your passion too. You don’t have to give up."

Sophia first fell in love with insects when she was 2 1/2 years old while visiting a butterfly conservatory in Niagara Falls, Ontario. "As soon as I walked in there, a blue butterfly perched on my shoulder. And it was just crawling all over my face, and it didn't leave," she recalled in a CBC interview. From that moment on, she was hooked. "My life revolved around Google for a really long time because if she found a bug outside, she'd want to know about [it]," says Sophia's mother Nicole. At kindergarten, her peers were delighted by her bug knowledge: "If they ever found a bug, they could be like, 'Sophia, what's this bug?' And I would usually know what it was."

But that changed in first grade when Sophia's family moved ten hours away to Eastern Ontario in 2016. The kids at her new school called her “weird” and one classmate broke her butterfly net while another stomped on a grasshopper, her favorite bug, when she brought it in for show and tell. "I started to pack up all my bug stuff, all my bug nets. I let all the bugs that were at home — I let them go," she says. "I felt just really upset, really sad and, you know, beat down."

Nicole didn't want to see Sophia give up her love of bugs due to bullying so she emailed the Entomological Society of Canada (ESC) for advice. "I am at a loss on how to encourage her in this field of science," she wrote. "I want her to know from an expert that she is not weird or strange (what kids call her) for loving bugs and insects." In response, the ESC sent out a tweet to its community stating: "A young girl who loves insects is being bullied and needs our support!” Thousands of people around the world — from fellow bug-loving girls to female entomologists — responded using the hashtag #BugsR4Girls to reassure Sophia that there were plenty of insect fans just like her out there.

The experience even helped Sophia become an author on a scientific paper. In 2017, Morgan Jackson, an entomology PhD candidate at the University of Guelph and the creator of the hashtag, wrote a paper analyzing how social media can impact science communication and public perception of science.  In instances like this, Jackson wrote in his part of the paper, "the positive impact scientists have on society, or even on a single individual, can burst into reality in real-time.“ He also invited Sophia to contribute her own section to the paper about the impact that the huge response to #BugsR4Girls had on her personally. "My mom says I'm back to being my funny old self with my confidence after seeing all the girls who like bugs," Sophia wrote. "It felt good to have so many people support me, and it was cool to see other girls and grown-ups studying bugs.... I think other girls who saw my story would like to study bugs too."

When she had an opportunity recently to share her story as a picture book, she was thrilled. Sophia wrote The Bug Girl with the help of writer Margaret McNamara, the author of The Dinosaur Expert, a fictional story about a girl being questioned about her love of paleontology. Kerascoët, an illustrator team made up of a wife and husband, provided the artwork, which captures the beauty of Sophia's bugs and her love of the outdoor world. In an interview with The Observer, McNamara says that she believes Sophia's story can give girls "a tremendous boost, and belief in themselves, and a sense that they can have their own likes and their own personality and it can lead to great things.”

When Sophia finally saw the finished book, which was released this month, she says it was "amazing," adding that "I thought it was just so cool. It really does express like the story really, really well." She hopes that it will inspire other kids like her, whose interests run counter stereotypes or seem strange to their peers. "Keep going," she advises kids in this  situation. "In the end it's going to turn out okay." For her part, Sophia knows that insects will continue to be a big part of her life: "I definitely, definitely, definitely want to study bugs when I grow up."

Books, Toys, and Science Kits for Bug-Loving Mighty Girls

Claudia and Moth

Claudia and Moth

Written by: Jennifer Hansen Rolli
Illustrated by: Jennifer Hansen Rolli
Recommended Age: 3 - 7

Claudia adores butterflies, and to capture all their beauty, she spends her summer painting picture after picture: yellow, blue, purple with polka dots... every one she sees. But then winter comes, and her beloved butterflies are nowhere to be found. Then she finds a moth eating one of the family's sweaters. A moth is almost like a butterfly, but it's not nearly as colorful -- but maybe beauty can be different from season to season. This is a delightful tribute to an art- and nature-loving girl who discovers that you can find something special just about everywhere... if you look at it the right way.

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian

Written by: Margarita Engle
Illustrated by: Julie Paschkis
Recommended Age: 4 - 8

In the Middle Ages, people believed that caterpillars were spontaneously generated from muck and mud, but even as a child, Maria Merian disagreed! As a young woman naturalist and artist, she watched and illustrated as caterpillars spun their cocoons, rested within, and emerged as "summer birds" — moths and butterflies. Her remarkable illustrations proved an astounding natural process: metamorphosis. This joyful and vibrant picture book biography aptly captures the passion Merian had for the beauties and wonders of the natural world. Tweens can learn more about Merian in the biography The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science for ages 10 to 13.

Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly

Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly

Written by: Alan Madison
Illustrated by: Kevin Hawkes
Recommended Age: 4 - 8

All anyone can talk about is Velma's amazing older sisters... which means that nobody notices Velma at all. That is, until her first grade class takes a field trip to the butterfly conservatory, someplace her sisters have never been. Velma is thrilled and quickly studies up on everything she can learn about butterflies — and when a monarch takes a liking to Velma, she'll never be forgotten again. More importantly, though, Velma has discovered a new identity and a new passion: she loves science! This charming and funny story is perfect as a read-aloud.

The Bug Girl: A True Story
New!

The Bug Girl: A True Story
New!

Illustrated by: Kerascoët
Recommended Age: 4 - 8

7-year-old Sophia had adored bugs ever since she was 2 1/2 — but when she got to school, not everyone appreciated her love of insects, especially in a girl. And when she brought a beautiful grasshopper — her favorite bug — to school, some of the kids even knocked it off her shoulder and killed it. Heartbroken, Sophia stopped talking about bugs... until her mom wrote to an entomological society looking for a bug scientist pen pal. The society created the hashtag #BugsR4Girls, and before long, hundreds of scientists were talking to Sophia, encouraging her to keep up her love of entomology. This charming picture book, written by the real-life Sophia, celebrates curiosity, scientific passion, being true to yourself — and of course, bugs!

Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist

The True Story of a World-Traveling Bug Hunter

Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist

The True Story of a World-Traveling Bug Hunter

Written by: Christine Evans
Illustrated by: Yasmin Imamura
Recommended Age: 5 - 9

When Evelyn Cheesman grew up at the end of the 1800s, a proper English girl stayed neat and tidy; instead, she dug through grubby fields and forests, tracking down her beloved bugs. At a time when girls were expected to marry and raise children, she decided to pursue a career in science. She was hired to care for the insect house at the London Zoo and revitalized the exhibits, filling them with live specimens for visitors to admire! In the early 1920s, when women were expected to stay home, she went on multiple solo expeditions to distant islands, collecting over 70,000 specimens and discovering new species. This exuberant biography of a bug-loving pioneering scientist celebrates those who follow their passions and blaze their own trails.

Bug Girl

Bug Girl

Recommended Age: 8 - 12

Amanda Price loves bugs — but her fellow sixth-graders do not appreciate her interests. That stings the most because Amanda's ex-best friend Emily now thinks she's creepy and strange. Then invaders threaten the town — and abduct both Amanda and Emily's mothers — and Amanda discovers she's develop insect-like powers, including a pair of antennae and a sturdy exoskeleton! But if she's going to save the town (and her mom) she needs Emily's help. This funny and action-filled superhero story will keep kids eagerly turning pages, and even includes sidebars of bug facts. Fans of the series opener can check out the second volume, Bug Girl: Fury On The Dance Floor.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Written by: Jacqueline Kelly
Recommended Age: 9 - 13

11-year-old Calpurnia is curious why the yellow grasshoppers in her yard are so much bigger than the green grasshoppers. But it's Texas in 1899, and girls are supposed to devote their time to proper activities like needlework, not tromping through the grasses studying bugs. Still, Calpurnia recruits her grandfather, an avid naturalist, to help her figure out the mystery. As the pair grows closer, Calpurnia dreams of becoming a scientist, even as it becomes more obvious how difficult that will be for a girl in her time. This book will give tweens new perspective on the challenges that faced female scientists in the past. Calpurnia's story continues in The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, while readers age 6 to 9 can check out the early chapter book series Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet.

Girls Who Looked Under Rocks

The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists

Girls Who Looked Under Rocks

The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists

Written by: Jeannine Atkins
Illustrated by: Paula Conner
Recommended Age: 10 and up

For these six women, curiosity and a passion for science drove them to overcome obstacles and prejudices in order to share their fascinating discoveries about the natural world! Jeannine Atkins discusses the childhoods and careers of six very different women — Maria Merian (b.1647), Anna Comstock (b.1854), Frances Hamerstrom (b.1907), Rachel Carson (b.1907), Miriam Rothschild (b.1908), and Jane Goodall (b.1934) — all of whom became renowned scientists, artists and writers. An excellent resource for students and a fascinating read for young science lovers, this book reminds readers that amazing discoveries can be found in surprising places.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science

Written by: Joyce Sidman
Recommended Age: 10 - 13

When Maria Merian began studying the world around her, bugs were considered to be "beasts of the devil." Everyone knew they spontaneously generated from mud; why would anyone want to study them? Merian's curiosity drove her to examine even these creatures, and through her notes and her art, she successfully documented something miraculous: the metamorphosis of the butterfly. This stunning biography, which is beautifully accented by full-color original artwork from Merian herself, provides an exciting look at one of the first female entomologists and her lifetime of exploration.

Entomologist Doll and Playset

Entomologist Doll and Playset

Manufacturer: Mattel
Recommended Age: 3 - 7

Join this doll from the Barbie Careers line, in partnership with National Geographic, as she studies the world of insects! Study bees, butterflies, ladybugs, spiders, and beetles with this playset. The doll has a magnifying glass, binoculars, and camera for studying specimens in the field, or she can catch them in her bug habitat and bring them back to her station for examination under the microscope. She'll go buggy for this entomologist doll!

Insects Toob

Insects Toob

Manufacturer: Safari
Recommended Age: 3 - 7

Discover a world of fascinating award winning miniature collectibles with the Insects Toob! This Toob includes a dragonfly, a praying mantis, a grasshopper, an ant, a cockroach, a caterpiller, a ladybug, a spider, a bumblebee, a scolopendrid, a fly, a scorpion, a yellow butterfly, and a brown butterfly. Each figure is carefully sculpted and hand painted for plenty of detail, and they all pack neatly in a reusable storage tube.

Live Butterfly Garden

Live Butterfly Garden

Manufacturer: Insect Lore
Recommended Age: 4 - 12

You can watch the amazing phenomenon of metamorphosis up close with this kit from Insect Lore! This reusable butterfly habitat is made of a fine transparent mesh that makes it easy to observe the changes going on inside. Send off your certificate to receive caterpillars and food, then set up the easy-to-use feeder so your caterpillars can grow. Soon enough you'll get to watch them form a chrysalis and then emerge as painted lady butterflies that you can release into your own garden! The habitat collapses for storage, but you can use it as many times as you want to observe caterpillars, butterflies, and other insects around your home.

Bug Bingo

Bug Bingo

Manufacturer: Laurence King Publishing
Recommended Age: 5 and up

Learn all about the insects of the world with this gorgeously illustrated bingo game from Laurence King Publishing! Sixty-four species of bugs are featured, from the Giant Hawker Dragonfly to the Sacred Scarab to the Honey Bee! Mark them off on your card and get a bingo to win! The leaflet includes basic information and a few fascinating facts about each species featured, and kids will love the illustrated bug tokens and the colorful counters.

Backyard Exploration Critter Case

Backyard Exploration Critter Case

Manufacturer: Toysmith
Recommended Age: 5 and up

Safely keep your insect subjects for longer-term study with this handy Critter Case! The plastic frame and easy-carry handle makes this case suitable to take both outdoors and in, while the high-quality mesh fabric on the sides allows easy observation of your insect finds. The hatch on the side allows you to set up a comfortable environment with branches, leaves, and so on to make your specimens feel at home, while the flat bottom keeps it stable and allows you to display it on a table or desk. It's the perfect choice for a budding entomologist.

Nancy B.'s Science Club Bug Discovery Lab and Incredible Insects Journal

Nancy B.'s Science Club Bug Discovery Lab and Incredible Insects Journal

Manufacturer: Educational Insights
Recommended Age: 8 - 12

Explore the world of insects with Nancy B.'s Science Club from Educational Insights! Inside this kit you'll find everything you need to collect, observe, and learn about bugs. Kids can use the pit trap with a funnel or the easy catch-and-release bug catcher to trap specimens, then put them in the portable bug terrarium for observation. Inside the Incredible Insects journal, they'll find out how to use all their bug-catching gear, and get ideas for activities to help them explore entomology. It's sure to prompt new curiosity about the overlooked creatures in the great outdoors! For another way to observe insects close-up, check out the Quick-Release Bug Catcher and Magnifier for ages 6 and up.

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