In a season of mistletoe and merriment, the only thing missing from the holiday is mutant bugs.


Yes, mutant bugs.


Sure, you can have your Santa and your snowmen and your visions of sugar plums, but what is a holiday without a giant praying mantis or two, or hell, a hoard of them sprouting out of human bodies infected by a plague?


For years, Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith has been my go-to recommendation to students. The book is the bawdy and bizarre tale of Austin and Robby who live in a small Iowa town and unwittingly release a plague that creates an army of six-foot tall praying mantises that only want to do two things—eat and reproduce.


Who wouldn’t love this book? Truthfully, I know it’s not for all students, but I continue to recommend it because in this novel, Andrew Smith gives the writer that lives inside all of us the permission to be quirky and irreverent, to be weird and wacky, to be fun and funky.


But even in all this bawdy and bizarre, Grasshopper Jungle begins with the most salient of points that may be even more profound than it was when the novel was released in 2014.


I read somewhere that human beings are generally predisposed to record history.

We believe it will prevent us from doing stupid things in the future.

But even though we dutifully archived elaborate records of everything we’ve ever done, we also managed to keep on doing dumber and dumber shit.

This is my history. (8)


And you can’t help liking Austin and Robby. They are characters you understand and want to root for, because history, a recurring idea throughout the novel, is not on their side.


The truth is—and history will back me up on this, too—that when kids like Grant ask kids like me and Robby if they can borrow stuff like skateboards, the boards are either going to get stolen, or the kids like me and Robby are going to get beaten up and then the boards are going to get stolen. 

The way kids like me and Robby get beaten up first is when one of them says no.

History class is over for today. (15)


And this is where things go wrong, blood gets spilled, mysterious viles break, and a plague is unleashed.


The rest, the bawdy and bizarre, is the stuff of genius and a true gift of reading. And it’s a gift that keeps on giving because there’s a sequel—Exile from Eden.


Christmas has had enough of the bah humbug. It needs a new kind of bug, the mutant kind.


Download the lesson below on using writing to revisit our personal histories. 



Michael Méndez Guevara is a former high school journalism and English teacher who spent his time in the classroom helping students see themselves as writers and fall in love with reading through the world of young adult literature. As an educational sales consultant with Perfection Learning®, Michael works with teachers and schools on improving their literacy instruction and providing resources to help students achieve academic success. He has taught elementary school, middle school, and high school and has worked as a district level leader and served on the Texas state standards revision committee that developed the state’s current literacy standards. He is the father of three adult sons, the youngest a student at the University of Kansas—Rock Chalk! Michael is working on a professional development book for literacy educators and currently has agents reading the manuscript of his young adult novel, The Closest Thing to a Normal Life. When he's not reading, writing, or running, Michael is fully committed to watching as much Law & Order as possible.