The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs Book Poster Image
Garden fantasy casts a strange spell.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

With the old woman bedridden, the neglected garden begins to wither and die. Parents can talk about what kind of care a thriving garden needs.

Positive Messages

The Leaf Men offers a lesson on empathy and the importance of helping those in need. It also explores the magical power of memory.

Positive Role Models & Representations
The garden insects want to help both the old lady and the garden. The proud doodle bugs and the Leaf Men demonstrate loyalty, courage, and persistence as they struggle to defeat the Spider Queen, repair the garden, and help the old lady.
Violence & Scariness

The grinning Spider Queen is malevolent, and the pictures of her might frighten sensitive kids. She's shot through the heart with a thistle arrow in a brief battle, but this isn't pictured. The elderly woman becomes very ill but regains her health.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs is no gentle garden tale. The garden's fate is tied to the declining health of an elderly woman, the gentle bugs' efforts to save her lead to a fierce battle and the defeat of an evil queen. The characters in this picture book, originally published in 1996, are the inspiration for the animated film Epic.

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What's the story?

As an elderly woman falls ill, her garden begins to wither, too. The mysterious Long-Lost Toy tells the concerned garden insects they must summon the Leaf Men to save her and the garden. The Spider Queen sneers that the Leaf Men aren't real, but the brave doodle bugs set out on their quest. The bugs soldier on through a storm and are nearly to their goal when the Spider Queen attacks. She's too late: The bugs summon the Leaf Men, who defeat the queen and her ant goblins. The Leaf Men then help the doodle bugs restore the garden and bring the Long-Lost Toy to the ailing old woman. When she awakes, she recognizes the toy from her childhood.


Is it any good?

Author and illustrator William Joyce, the creative force behind the Guardians of Childhood series and Rolie Polie Olie, presents a fanciful tale of a magical garden and forgotten memories. The storytelling in THE LEAF MEN AND THE BRAVE GOOD BUGS is choppy and stilted, and sometimes just plain strange (and not in a good way).
But the book is enlivened by lush artwork. Whimsical touches -- such as the fireflies spelling out "get better" by the old lady's bed -- brighten the bittersweet tone. Joyce's illustrations are the type that pull kids in, inviting them to linger over details and search for clues to the story's ending. They're mesmerizing but also a little bit creepy. Some children will adore this book, but others will find it unsettling.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the garden bugs and their concern for the old lady. Why do they care so deeply about her?

  • Why are stories about bugs so popular? What other ones have you read or seen in movies?
  • The doodle bugs are "brave good bugs." Are bugs good or bad for a garden -- or a little of both?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love picture books and fantasy

Themes & Topics

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