Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean



Winner of the 2018 Freeman Book Award for children's literature on East and Southeast Asia; winner of the 2018 Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award; named a Notable Social Studies book for 2019 by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council; and listed as a CCBC Choices 2019 book by the Cooperative Children's Book Center of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean


Classroom Guide



Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean tells its story through the memories of a farm boy who, inspired by Pu Zhelong, became a scientist himself.


The narrator is a composite of people Pu Zhelong influenced in his work. With further context from Melanie Chan’s historically precise watercolors, this story will immerse young readers in Chinese culture, the natural history of insects, and the use of biological controls in farming. Backmatter provides context and background for this lovely, sophisticated picture book about nature, science, and Communist China.


“The first time I saw a scientist in my village was also the first time I saw a wasp hatch out of a moth’s egg,” writes the narrator of this picture book about Chinese scientist Pu Zhelong. “In that moment I could not have said which was the more unexpected?or the more miraculous.”

In the early 1960s, while Rachel Carson was writing and defending Silent Spring in the U.S., Pu Zhelong was teaching peasants in Mao Zedong’s Communist China how to forgo pesticides and instead use parasitic wasps to control the moths that were decimating crops and contributing to China’s widespread famine.


This story told through the memories of a farm boy (a composite of people inspired by Pu Zhelong) will immerse young readers in Chinese culture, the natural history of insects, and sustainable agriculture. Backmatter provides historical context for this lovely, sophisticated picture book.


Color throughout.

Available wherever books are sold.


REVIEW – from School Library Journal

GR 3–5—The young narrator, a fictional composite, recalls how insect invasions seriously threatened essential rice and lychee harvests in rural 1960s–70s Guangdong, China. The narrator explains that farmers were relying on expensive pesticides, which made people sick and gradually became ineffective, to battle pests. The arrival of Pu Zhelong, a pioneering environmentalist trained in Minnesota, changed the locals’ approach. Working with farmers and students, barefoot, Zhelong advocated for natural-predator balance, and health and harvests improved. Clear, detailed text and drawings explain the use of parasitic wasps and silk-moth eggs for biological control; a lucid afterword connects readers to history (and acknowledges that pesticides are still widely used); and a brief bibliography provides additional value. Author and illustrator gracefully convey their expertise. Lyrical yet realistic line-and-color wash illustrations, dominated by rich greens, assure visual appeal. The clever scrapbook conceit might produce some confusion about the narrator’s age but allows for the introduction of a dozen decorative and instructive paper-cut Chinese characters. An endpage explains each. VERDICT Readers interested in environmental science and Chinese history, language, and culture will find an engaging and informative story here.