Children’s book by OSU author explores entomology through Alex the Ant

Book coverThirteen years ago, a friend of Eric Dickey’s was expecting a child, and Dickey, who is an administrative program specialist for Oregon Sea Grant, thought he’d write a children’s story, have it illustrated, and give it to his friend as a gift. But like many well-laid plans, although the story was written in a few hours time, it ended up languishing in a box under a bed.

Fast-forward a decade or so, and Dickey had two children of his own, to whom he read many a bed-time story. He’s also an accomplished poet and is comfortably grounded in the world of words. In the back of his mind, he thought to himself, “I could do this,” and then it occurred to him that he already had. He fished the old manuscript out of the box, and some agonizing rewrites later, he sent off “Alex the Ant Goes to the Beach,” to a publisher, with the wild hope that it might be picked up.

To his amazement, it was. And at the end of July, Alex the Ant truly came to life in the shape of a brightly colored hardback book, illustrated by Abbey Paccia and published by Craigmore Creations, an independent Portland-based press.


Eric Dickey will be giving book readings in Portland and Corvallis. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Dickey, who is moving from his Sea Grant position this summer to a research coordinator position in the College of Liberal Arts, has always had an interest in science, which is why Alex’s story is an exploration of entomology and beach safety, appropriate for a 3-8 year-old audience. The publisher specializes in science literacy, making the book a good fit. Before he sent it off, Dickey made sure the book, although fanciful, did include solid science.

“I had it vetted by an entomologist,” Dickey said. There was one fact that Dickey didn’t change, after he learned from the entomologist that all worker ants are female. Males have wings and are around mainly to service the queen ant. Dickey decided not to change the gender of his main character, but the information did inspire him with ideas for another book, where Alex gets his wings.

Before pitching the story, Dickey also took some advice from a couple of local children’s book authors, including Margaret Anderson and Tom Birdwell. The research, the rewriting and the focus on an engaging hero, little Alex the Ant, paid off.

In the book, Alex is a young ant dreaming of becoming an ant scout for his anthill. He tags along with the scouts on a trip, and ends up having an adventure that proves his worthiness as a future leader. At the same time, young readers learn things about ants including what ants eat, how they communicate and how they work together.

“Originally I wanted to juxtapose something really small, an ant, against something really big, the ocean,” Dickey said, and how ants can survive in such a dangerous, vast environment. In a sequel, which he’s already drafted, the ants face trouble from a changing climate and have to adapt. Alex builds a bridge to help a neighboring anthill, which also introduces some basic engineering concepts to readers.

Dickey has several local book events taking place in July. The events will combine crafts, music and a book reading. He’ll be at Green Bean Books in Portland on Saturday, July 5, 2 p.m. Dickey will have two Corvallis appearances as well, July 12, 11 a.m. at the Toy Factory, and July 19, 11:30 a.m., at GrassRoots Books & Music.

For more information on the events or to learn more about the book:

~ Theresa Hogue

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