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Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre and His World of Insects

Written by Matthew Clark Smith
Illustrated by Giuliano Ferri 
Hardcover, 48 pages


Meet Jean-Henri Fabre, one of the most important naturalists of all time. As a boy in the French countryside, Henri spent hours watching insects. He dreamed of observing them in a new way: in their own habitats. What he discovered in pursuing that dream was shocking; these small, seemingly insignificant creatures led secret lives—lives of great drama!

This picture-book biography with lyrical text and richly detailed illustrations introduces the man who would forever change the way we look at insects, bringing to life the fascinating world of dazzling beetles, ferocious wasps, and other amazing small wonders that exist all around us.

and here the story begins….

Once there was a village in the sunny south of France: a village much like any other, where the cocks crowed and the church bells rang, and everyone seemed to know his or her place. Everyone, that is, but one…

At the very edge of town, behind high walls and plane trees, there stood a pink house, In the house lived an old man with beetle-black eyes and a black felt hat who talked to animals. Where he was a sorcerer, or simply a madman, no one could agree.”

“Inside the house, according to rumor lurked even stranger things. Scorpions scuttling in cages. Swallows darting through open windows. Pickles sea creatures arriving in crates. And roasted caterpillars – one man swore it – for dinner! Over the years the old man’s reputation grew and grew, cocooned in mystery.”

“His name was Jean-Henri Fabre. There are many paths to genius. Monsieur Fabre’s had begun on the side of a mountain, nearly a century before….”

Jean-Henri Fabre: Historical Note

When Jean-Henri  Casimir Fabre was growing up in the early 1800s, scientists often studied plants and animals in laboratories or in distant, exotic places. Entomology, the study of insects, was considered to be of interest only to specialized experts.

Fabre was different. He wanted to study the insects he saw all around him, in the gardens and pastures and on the roadsides of rural France. And he wanted to study their behabior in life, instead of dissecting and comparing them after they died.

By watching insects carefully in their natural habitat, Fabre made important discoveries. He was the first to prove that insects used chemical scents called pheromones to communicate with each other. He was the first to figure out a process called hypermetamorphosis, which cases certain insects such as bee flies and blister beetles to take multiple forms during their growth into adulthood. And he was the first to fully understand how instincts – “hard-wired” behaviors that an animal is born with – can explain so many of the amazing feats of insects, from a wasp paralyzing its beetle prey to a termite colony building a gigantic mound…

Fabre accomplished many new and important things as a scientist. But what set him apart even more was his passion for sharing his observation with others – not just with academic community, but with wider world… Fabre believed that is was important for everyone to see nature in all its complexity…


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“We have all of us, men and animals, some special gift. One child takes to music…another is quick with figures.

It is the same way with insects. One kind of Bee can cut leaves, another build clay houses…In human being s, we call the special gift genius. In an insect, we call it instinct. Instinct is the animal’s genius.”
Jean-Henri Fabre.

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