How to Walk an Ant
"We expect some silliness to be on hand for picture books, but How to Walk an Ant isn’t merely silly, it goes much further: It’s absurd."
We expect some silliness to be on hand for picture books, but How to Walk an Ant isn’t merely silly, it goes much further: It’s absurd. This story about a young entrepreneur whose business model is that she walks ants. She’s clearly knowledgeable about the subject, and she’s in the mood to share. Her tiny eyes address us, and she announces: “My name is Amarlyah and I am an expert walker.”
Thus we’re alerted that we’re invited to inhabit a reality that is preposterous, incongruous, and nonsensical. The freedom to leave the mundane shores of logic is exactly what the gift of this little charmer is. Cindy Derby, a puppeteer and brand new author-illustrator, has given us a very assertive, self-confident character in Amarlyah, who not only walks ants (seriously, she does,) but also has a system in place she’s willing to share, that is her own “nine step guide.”
The enjoyment here is the juxtaposition of pitting the ridiculous premise against a fairly rigid bunch of rules and tips we must follow. Example, “Step Four: Tie the smallest bow in the universe, then secure the leash between the ant’s thorax and head.***refer to Ant Anatomy in Appendix Z.”
The art is character driven and mostly done in spot drawings of our heroine with her coal black hair the size of a small chair. She speaks to us directly in hand- rendered text that makes the experience feel like the notebook of a daft art student. But there is a story here, too, because when you walk an ant—even if you are an expert at it—other ants are bound to follow.
Thus, at the end of the story there are several double page spreads that go wide and give us the joke: Amarlyah has a very good tip for us: ”Step Eight. When you encounter a colony of ants, repeat two through seven three-thousand and twenty-eight times.” It turns out pet-walking is not limited to ants; there is an encounter with a ladybug walker and when both bugs are tragically squished, the girls bond over “How to Conduct a Funeral.”
Derby has lightly touched her book with some educational info: there is a Glossary, an Appendix, and a subtle story element of friendship and passion.