May 25, 2017


Beat Bugs: I Am the Walrus. Adapted by Anne Lamb from a story by Josh Wakely. HarperFestival. $9.99.

Meet the Beat Bugs. Adapted by Anne Lamb. Harper. $3.99.

Beat Bugs: Ticket to Ride. Adapted by Cari Meister from a story by Erica Harrison. Harper. $3.99.

Beat Bugs: Help! Adapted by Anne Lamb from a story by Josh Wakely. HarperFestival. $3.99.

     Tie-ins are getting tie-ier and tie-ier, and if that is not yet a word, it will be soon. Or should be. Books tied to movies are now just the first tier of multimedia presentations. Since movies also become TV shows, and vice versa, there can also be books tied to movies based on TV programs, and books tied to TV programs based on movies, and many other possibilities. One of which turns out to be books tied to TV programs tied to songs. Yes, Beat Bugs, a Netflix series, has a title that sounds suspiciously like “Beatles,” and indeed, the whole show is about computer-generated bugs (insects, spiders, worms and more) having backyard adventures inspired loosely (very loosely) by old Beatles songs. Fans of the show are quite obviously the only potential audience for books based on the show that is based on the songs – although the books do make attempts to introduce the characters to kids who are not familiar with them, in the obvious hope that the books will become gateways to the TV series, which will become a gateway to more books, which will….and round and round we go.

     Just like a great many movie-tie-in books, the TV-tie-in ones based on Beat Bugs are intended for kids ages 4-8 and are available in several formats. Beat Bugs: I Am the Walrus is a hardcover picture book featuring Walter Walrus, a slug who is one of the five primary Beat Bugs characters. It is the story of Walter needing to leave his garden home because of trucks doing construction there, and moving to the garden next door – where he does his best to settle in, calm down, and reach out to make friends with bugs in the new garden. Predictably, things do not go well: Walter is a bit shy and nervous, and just as he goes out to meet the other bugs, trash falls on him (dropped by unseen humans) and he ends up with an eggshell on his head (never mind that slugs do not exactly have heads; certainly nothing like Walter’s). Anyway, the initial introductions go poorly, but soon Walter tries again and everything goes much better, and everybody becomes friends with everyone else (or at least the five central characters do), and the result is a group of anime-inspired, extremely wide-eyed and big-headed, mostly small-bodied bugs having a friendly hug amid the usual hyper-realistic (and thus obviously fake) computer-generated versions of common household and backyard objects. The very end of the book gives the lyrics to the Beatles’ song, “I Am the Walrus,” just to make the connection with the book and the Beat Bugs series abundantly clear.

     Meet the Beat Bugs and Beat Bugs: Ticket to Ride are both Level 1 paperbacks in the I Can Read! series, which means they are written with “simple sentences for eager new readers.” Meet the Beat Bugs is the ultimate introduction to the TV series: it contains very brief introductions to no fewer than 21 series characters, including the only very-slightly-bad one (Geoff, a cockroach who “cannot always be trusted”) and the only non-living one – which, for purposes of the TV show, is alive (a sprinkler named Octopus). Being merely an introduction of the characters, Meet the Beat Bugs is not tied to a Beatles song and thus does not contain lyrics at the end. But the lyrics to “Ticket to Ride” do appear at the conclusion of Beat Bugs: Ticket to Ride, which of course has nothing to do with the song (the Beatles’ music is really just a “hook” on which to hang the TV series and the books derived from it). There actually is a ride here, made by Crick the cricket (the local inventor) from an old bike tire and pedal, and powered by the stink emitted by Alex the Stinkbug – who, however, needs to eat a specific type of leaf in order to produce the ride-moving power. The plot has to do with getting Alex the leaves he needs – without the other Beat Bugs eating them before delivering them. The writing in both these Level 1 books, like their plots, is super-easy to follow and will likely be enjoyed by the TV show’s youngest fans; indeed, although the tie-in books are said to be for ages 4-8, it is hard to imagine the show appealing to kids who are much beyond the early part of that age range.

     Beat Bugs: Help! is also a paperback, but the story here is slightly more elaborate and the writing slightly more advanced. Another invention by Crick is central here: a “Crick-tapult” that Jay, the impulsive beetle among the five primary characters, insists on riding – refusing even to wear a helmet. Of course something goes wrong: the Crick-tapult works too well, sending Jay a long-by-bug-standards distance, where he lands in a jar and cannot escape. And to make matters worse (or as bad as they ever get in Beat Bugs), the jar is slowly filling with water. “Help! I need somebody,” says Jay, in an actual nod to the Beatles song whose lyrics are presented at the book’s end. Later, Kumi the ladybug criticizes Jay by saying, “I thought you never needed anybody’s help in any way,” again referencing the song – while being as negative as any character ever gets here. The bugs eventually get together to tip over the jar so the water flows out and takes Jay out with it, so everything is just fine, exactly as fans of Beat Bugs will know and expect. Indeed, everything in all the Beat Bugs tie-in books will meet the expectations of the fans at whom the books are directed, and nothing in any book will surprise anyone or develop any character’s minimal personality. That is not the aim of these books – or, for that matter, of tie-ins in general. The idea is to go exactly where fans expect things to go, so no one is surprised or the slightest bit challenged. Beat Bugs fans will not be disappointed in these books, because they simply deliver exactly the same things that the TV show does, with all the same visuals – merely in a different medium.

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