How The Firefly Got Its Blink
By Stuart Baum, Illustrations
When my Mother was a little girl, there were no fireflies,
or lightning bugs as some people call them. On warm, Summer
days, she and her friends would head down to the local park
and try to catch grasshoppers.
Grandma would call Mother in for dinner and Mother would
bolt down her food and hurry back to the grasshopper hunt. After
what seemed like only a few minutes to my Mother, Grandma would
call out, "Come on in! It's getting dark!"
"Aww! Please no, Mama!" Mother would holler back. "We haven't
even caught any grasshoppers yet!"
But Grandma would respond, "It's no wonder you haven't caught
any grasshoppers. It's too dark to see them." Mother would look
around and notice that the sun had, in fact, sunk down behind
the city buildings and that either the grasshoppers had all
gone to bed or there was no longer enough light by which to
see them. Head hanging low, wishing she could stay out longer,
Mother would walk slowly home and go to bed.
Once in bed, Mother would look out the window and wish that
the sun never set, that it would always be light.
"What good are you?" she would demand of the moon. "You don't
make enough light to see anything worth seeing." Then she would
fall asleep, wishing the moon were the sun, so she could play
outside all night long.
And every night, just as Mother fell asleep, the moon would
wink at her and smile.
When my Mother was a little girl, there were these
little black beetles with dark orange heads. Oh, they had a
name, but it was a long scientific name used only by entomologists,
who are people that study insects. My Mother didn't know what
they were called and neither did Grandma. Every now and then,
on the way home from the grasshopper hunt, one of these little
black and orange beetles would fly over to Mother and land on
her arm or leg or, sometimes even, her face. Mother, who was
never afraid of bugs, would brush it off and yell at it.
"Stupid bug! Get off my leg," she would yell. And the little
black and orange beetle would fly away.
Where would the beetle go? Mother never knew nor cared.
But I know. It would fly over to its Mother,
another little black and orange beetle. The two of them would
"No one wants to play with me," complained the little black
and orange beetle. "I keep trying and trying to get one of the
children to chase me or play with me, but they only want to
The Mother black and orange beetle would explain, "Grasshoppers
can hop. Just when a child is about to catch one, they hop away."
"We don't do that. We're easy to catch," said the little
beetle, not understanding.
"Children don't want bugs to be easy to catch," the Mother
beetle further explained. "They want fun. They want a challenge.
Easy to catch is not a challenge. Easy to catch is not fun."
The little beetle thought he understood. So the next day, he
found the children playing in the park and he flew near Mother's
face. Mother swatted her hand at the little beetle and nearly
hit him. The little beetle flew away from Mother, expecting
that she would chase him. She did not.
So the little beetle tried again. He flew right in front
of Mother's face and as soon as he saw Mother looking at him,
he flew away. Once again, Mother did not chase him.
The third time, he hovered right in front of Mother's nose
and waited for her to try to catch him. But instead, Mother
turned away and said to her friends, "Let's go home. There are
too many stupid bugs here today." And the children went inside
Mother's apartment to play Monopoly.
"I don't understand," said the little beetle to his Mother.
"Why wouldn't that girl play with me?"
The Mother beetle patiently explained, "We don't do anything
that children think is fun. We just fly around. And we're not
even fast. Flies are fast. Hornets are fast. We're slow. Why
would anyone want to try to catch a slow bug? It'd be too easy
and, as I said last time, easy is no fun."
"It's not fair!" hollered the little beetle. "Why can't we
fly faster or hop? Other insects can."
"That," said the Mother beetle, "I cannot tell you. Maybe
you should go ask the BugMaker."
"I will," declared the little beetle.
When my Mother was a little girl, you could still
talk to the Makers. The Makers were, as their name describes,
in charge of making all the animals and plants and minerals
of the world. If the world needed something new, one of the
Makers would make it.
There was a TreeMaker, a PlantMaker, a FlowerMaker, a RockMaker,
a PeopleMaker and all sorts of other Makers. And, anytime you
had a question about why you were here or why other things were
here, you could ask one of the Makers. You just had to know
where to look.
So the little black and orange beetle went to see the BugMaker.
He flew up the tree to where the BugMaker lived and waited by
the BugMaker's door, which was really just a large oak leaf.
The little beetle softly rustled the leaf and inquired politely,
"BugMaker? Are you in?"
An old woman insect's voice came gently from inside, more like
the sound of the wind than the click of a beetle. "Yes. I am
here. What sort of bug are you?" The BugMaker always asked what
sort of bug was at the door, because she always came out looking
just like that type of bug, only bigger.
The little beetle answered sadly, "A stupid, little, slow-flying,
no-hopping, black and orange beetle."
The BugMaker came through the leaf door looking just like
the little black and orange beetle (only bigger.) She chuckled
softly and gave the little black and orange beetle a look that
made him feel anything but stupid. Her look made him feel warm
and loved as only the BugMaker could make an insect feel.
"What brings you here, today?" gently asked
The little black and orange beetle responded firmly, "I want
to hop like a grasshopper." Then, thinking he might have been
rude, quickly added, "Please?"
The BugMaker was confused. "But grasshoppers hop,"
"That's what my Mom says," said the beetle.
"Your Mom is very wise," said the BugMaker.
"Then make me fly faster like a fly or a hornet," tried the
black and orange beetle. Again, he quickly added, "Please?"
"But flies and hornets fly faster," explained
the BugMaker. "That's what they do."
The black and orange beetle sighed. "Mom says that, too."
Then the little black and orange beetle had an idea. He realized
that children liked to chase butterflies as well as grasshoppers.
"I know! I know!" he offered excitedly. "Give me beautiful
multi-colored wings like butterflies have!" He spun around,
imaging what it would be like to have such beautiful wings.
When he spun back to look at the BugMaker, he knew that his
idea was not very good at all. In fact, this time he supplied
the answer himself. In a voice that sounded somewhat like his
Mom's and somewhat like the BugMaker's he said, "But butterflies
have big, beautiful wings."
The BugMaker smiled and nodded at him.
"It's not fair!" the little black and orange beetle complained.
"Grasshoppers and flies and hornets and butterflies got all
the good bug stuff and all I got was this orange head!" The
black and orange beetle glared at the BugMaker and challenged,
"What good is an orange head for playing with children?"
The little black and orange beetle knew he had gone too far.
You do not accuse the BugMaker of giving you a bad gift, but
he was not going to take it back or apologize. He had said it.
He had meant it. He also expected to be punished, or at least
lectured, for it.
But instead, the BugMaker smiled sweetly at the little black
and orange beetle and said softly, "So that's why you came here.
You want to play with children." She reached out and ruffled
his antennae gently. "That's a very, very nice reason to come
to see me." She smiled once again, ruffled his antennae a second
time, and looked up at the sky.
The little black and orange beetle looked up into the sky as
well, but all he saw up there was the moon, which made him realize
that it was getting late and that he had better get home soon
before his Mom missed him. He flew off in a hurry. He hurried
away so quickly (for a not-so-fast-flying black and orange beetle,
that is) he did not see the BugMaker wink at the Moon. Or the
moon wink back.
When my Mother was a little girl, they had flashlights,
but not plastic ones or ones that blinked on and off. All the
flashlights were made of metal, which dented very easily. Also,
not everybody had flashlights. Usually, only emergency people
like policemen and firemen had them. Why am I telling you this?
Because on my Mother's birthday, Grandma gave her a flashlight,
which, as you now know, was a very special gift in those days.
"Oh, thank you Mama!" Mother exclaimed. "Thank you, thank you!"
Grandma explained the flashlight gift patiently, "This is
so you can chase grasshoppers after it gets a little dark, but
not very dark because you still have a bedtime and you still
can't forget you live in a city."
"Oh, don't worry, Mama," said Mother. "I'll still come when
you call me." And with that she ran out of the house and to
the park, determined to catch grasshoppers with her new flashlight,
even though it was still hours before it would get dark.
Mother loved her flashlight and every night that Summer,
Mother and her friends would run to the park after dinner and
catch grasshoppers. Or at least they would try to catch them.
Even with a flashlight, catching grasshoppers at night is no
One night, the little orange beetle saw Mother running through
the park holding her flashlight.
'Now that is something!' thought the little orange beetle.
'A light a child can carry around.' The little orange beetle
decided that he needed to get a closer look at this light. He
flew over to Mother.
Mother saw him and, as she always did, yelled, "Get away
from me, you stupid, little bug!" To make her point, she swatted
at the little orange and black beetle with her flashlight. She
missed and the flashlight flew out of her hand. As soon as it
hit the ground, the flashlight went out. At that same moment,
the moon, which had been unusually bright that evening, hid
behind some clouds and the park was plunged into total darkness.
Mother looked around for her flashlight, but she could barely
see her hands in front of her face, let alone a flashlight hidden
in the grass. She searched and searched, even dropping down
to her knees to feel her hands around in the grass, but she
found only a few sticks and an empty soda bottle. Soon Grandma
called her in to bed. Reluctantly, Mother plodded home without
The next morning Mother ran to the park and found her flashlight.
It now had a small dent on one side, but otherwise it looked
fine. She flicked the 'on' switch and, to her glee, the light
went on. But then it went off again. Mother shook the flashlight
and the light, once again, went on. But it didn't stay on. Even
though Mother changed the batteries, the flashlight no longer
gave off a strong, constant beam of light. It would flicker
on for a second and then, as quickly, go out.
That night, Mother put the flashlight on top of her bureau and,
sadly, went to bed. She was very tired and very upset. She looked
up at the moon and made a wish. Well, it was really three wishes.
But none of them came out quite right and they were all lumped
together into one. She meant to wish that, one, her flashlight
would work again and stop blinking off, two, the moon would
be brighter so she could catch more grasshoppers, and, three,
all those orange and black bugs would go away. But what came
out of her mouth, what she really wished, sounded like this:
"Flashlight... work... blinking... moon... brighter... stupid
little black and orange bugs."
No sooner had the words left her mouth than she fell asleep.
The moon winked at her and smiled.
When my Mother was a little girl, they used to believe
that leaving windows open at night was bad for you. So Grandma
would always make sure to close the window in Mother's room
and tell Mother that she should not open the window until the
morning. While Mother usually obeyed Grandma, sometimes she
got so hot at night she couldn't help but open her window. This
was one of those very hot nights and Mother, half-awakened by
the heat, opened her window to let in a cooling breeze. She
also let in the little black and orange beetle, which still
wanted a closer look at the flashlight.
The flashlight was easy to spot. It was sitting right on
top of Mother's bureau and was illuminated so brightly by the
moon you would think the moon were shining one of its moonbeams
right at it. The little orange and black beetle landed next
to the flashlight. He was surprised that it was so ordinary
looking for something that made light come out of one end. To
the little orange and black beetle, the flashlight looked just
like a long, silver can with a piece of glass at one end, as
well as a dent on one side. Then the little beetle noticed the
'on' switch. He pushed at the switch, but it was too hard for
him to move. It was nearly as big as he was. He tried harder,
but still he could not budge the switch. He was determined.
Flying as fast as he could, which isn't very fast as we all
know, he zipped towards the switch and landed right on it. The
The flashlight flickered, sending its somewhat dim beam across
the room and onto the wall. The little black and orange beetle
was very excited. He had an idea. A good idea. And, to
himself, he made a wish that sounded very much like my Mother's
wish. (Only without the word 'stupid' in it.)
He flew out of the window and straight to the BugMaker's
tree. When he got there, the BugMaker was sitting in front of
her door, looking very much like the little black and orange
beetle (only bigger.)
Before the little black and orange beetle could say a word,
or even properly settle himself on the branch, the BugMaker
said in her soft, old woman voice, "I think it is a lovely
The black and orange beetle thought the BugMaker was talking
to someone else, since he hadn't yet said anything. He looked
around, but he saw no one else, just he and the BugMaker. For
some reason, he looked up into the sky and saw the moon. The
moon winked at him.
"The moon told you my wish?" he asked the BugMaker.
The BugMaker nodded. "You made almost the same wish as that
little girl," the BugMaker explained. "Though she may not know
Expectantly, the little black and orange beetle asked, "So
I get my wish?"
"You already have," said the BugMaker.
She turned around to show the little black and orange beetle
that she, in her present appearance, could make her bottom blink
like the broken flashlight.
The little black and orange beetle jumped off the branch
and started to fly home, then he stopped suddenly and, at the
top of his tiny, beetle-sized lungs, hollered, "Thank you, BugMaker!"
To this day, nearly every warm, Summer night, children hurry
outside after dinner to catch little black and orange beetles.
These beetles do not hop. They do not fly very fast. They
do not have big, beautiful wings. But they do blink,
making them fun to catch after dark.
When your Mother was a little girl, there were small
gray bugs that looked like tiny armadillos, but when you touched
them, nothing happened. They were not yet able to curl up into
balls like pill bugs, or roly-polies as some people call them.
One warm, Summer night, a little not-yet pill bug was watching
a group of children catching fireflies in the back yard and
he became jealous. He wanted to play with the children, too.
So he crawled, rather slowly I might add, to the BugMaker
and asked, politely, in his squeaky, gruff voice, "Can you please
make me blink like a firefly?"
The BugMaker, also shaped like a tiny armadillo bug (only
bigger), looked up at the moon and smiled before she responded.
"But fireflies blink," she explained.
© 2000 Stuart B. Baum, Cover
illustration by Fred Plewa