Peoria Magazine (PM): Please tell us what your latest book, Bugs for Breakfast, is all about.
Mary Boone (MB): Bugs for Breakfast is about entomophagy – the practice of eating insects for nourishment. But it’s also about world cultures, history, sustainability, water scarcity, agriculture, nutrition and innovation. I hope it’s the kind of book that encourages readers to think about what they’re eating and why they’re eating it.
PM: What motivated you to start researching bugs as a food source?
MB: About eight years ago, my daughter and I traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia. We promised each other we’d try new things while we were there. One of the many “new things” I tried was a kabob made of roasted grasshoppers and silkworms. Initially I chalked it up as a “one and done” kind of experience.
But after I’d been back home for a couple weeks, I started thinking about the fact that there are people all over the world who are eating bugs on a regular basis and I wanted to know more. Who was eating them? Why were they eating them? What were they eating?
I’ve always been fascinated by research, so every fact I uncovered led to 10 more questions. Heck, in the beginning I didn’t even know there was a word for the practice of eating bugs and I had no idea that one out of every four people on the planet is eating them on a regular basis.
PM: Your book provides recipes for readers to follow. Which one is your favorite and how did you discover it?
MB: I’m a big fan of cricket powder, which is a mild-tasting powder made from milled roasted crickets. Just one tablespoon of cricket powder contains about 40 calories and 5 grams of protein, plus you don’t see the insects’ actual legs and wings, which made it much easier for me to work into recipes my family would eat. You can substitute cricket powder for 10 percent to 20 percent of the flour in most recipes (it doesn’t contain gluten, so beyond 20 percent and you start messing with the dough’s ability to stretch and bond).
I started out experimenting with recipes my family already loved, everything from pizza dough to chocolate chip cookies. My favorite recipe in the book is probably my BUG-anna Bread recipe. It’s a recipe I’ve used for years, but it’s a little healthier thanks to a cricket powder substitution.
PM: Several reviews for Bugs for Breakfast were written by adults who enjoyed the book themselves before sharing it with children. Why do you think adults find it so appealing?
MB: I think the book has appeal for adults because entomophagy isn’t a topic most of us know much about. The nutrition aspect is definitely more interesting to adults than kids, but I think learning about other cultures and how we might help the planet are pretty universal desires.
PM: Why did you decide to focus on writing nonfiction for young adults?
MB: Writing for children is something I’ve wanted to do as long as I can remember. I always thought I’d write fiction, but I learned pretty quickly that I’m much better with facts than making things up. Blame my journalism background, I guess. I love writing the kinds of books that surprise readers. I want them to read my books and run home to tell their families, “You’re not going to believe what I learned today!”
PM: You currently live in Tacoma, Washington, but central Illinois was your home when you wrote for the Peoria Journal Star. How did your time here shape you as an author and a person?
MB: I’m a Midwest native. I was in central Illinois about seven years and I loved living there. I had a fantastic network of co-workers and friends. Two people, in particular, really helped me grow as a writer: Dennis Dimond, who was my editor at the Journal Star, and Steve Vogel, who was my supervisor in the public affairs department at State Farm. They both encouraged my creativity and pushed me to think beyond the status quo.
The Peoria and Bloomington running communities were also a huge part of my life. I remember approaching Illinois Valley Striders with an idea: I wanted to start a beginning runners’ program for the Steamboat Classic. They didn’t know me and they could have sent me away, but they fully embraced and supported my whacky notion. Seeing people complete Building Steam with more fitness, more confidence, and a whole new group of friends was beyond my wildest dreams.
PM: You’ve written more than 60 nonfiction books for young readers. If people love Bugs for Breakfast and wanted to read more of your work, which book would you suggest?
MB: I have a series of Save Our Planet books (Capstone Publishing) about the environment, recycling and reusing that’s aimed at lower elementary students. I have my first picture book, a nonfiction biography about the first woman to ride her bike around the world (Henry Holt Publishing), coming out next year and I’m super excited about that one.
PM: What are you working on now?
MB: I always have about a half-dozen projects I’m writing or researching or trying to revive. I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on a program that’s popular in Washington state called “Salmon in the Classroom.” Schools are given salmon eggs and students raise them to fry stage and then release them into rivers and streams, the whole time learning about the stages of life and how salmon fit into the ecosystem. It’s fascinating to me, so I hope it’s fascinating to readers as well. I’m also deep into research on topics ranging from kelp farming to ground-breaking aviators. Never a dull moment!
PM: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
MB: People sometimes ask me when I’m going to write a real book – you know, for adults. And the answer is probably never. Children’s books are real books and I love playing even a tiny role in helping to educate readers and feed their curiosity.