"You've got a quirky mind, haven't you?" was Clive Farrell's opening gambit when asking if I would write a story for him based on the life of the leafcutter ant! As I mentioned in an earlier post, he had enjoyed reading The Magic Makers and hoped that I might write him a story with something of Alice in Wonderland about it which would give young readers an idea of just how extraordinary the leafcutter ants are.
The big challenge with this story was to keep a balance between an engaging narrative and the factual information which I wanted to convey. Having done a lot of work in Primary Schools, I also wanted it to answer to the National Curriculum requirements for Year Six so that the story could provide the basis for an integrated four-week programme - something which I set out in a detailed curriculum sketch to accompany the book.
Clive's Butterfly Farm at Stratford-upon-Avon houses a large leafcutter ant colony. It also has an interesting display about the Maya culture in Belize, where Clive has a Butterfly Ranch and, of course, where leafcutter ant colonies may be found. After a visit to Stratford and extensive research into the life of the leafcutter, my mind started to stir. Phew!
The discovery of lithodytes lineatus [a little frog with pheromones which enable it to pass unharmed into the leafcutter ant colony] was a godsend. I shall write more about the book in my next few blogs but in this image Annie (the central character, who has reduced in size after drinking hot chocolate given to her by an old Maya woman) has her first encounter with the Queen Ant. Lithodytes lineatus (or Goldie as Annie calls him) is acting as her guide.
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