• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #371: The Grouchy Ladybug

Updated: Feb 20


You're not big enough for him to fight.

You can see all the brown bears and hear all the polar bears you want. You can feed that hungry caterpillar and stay busy with that spider. You can hang out with that slow sloth and that quiet cricket and that painted horse. These are all gems from the mind and brush of Eric Carle, staples of our own early years and those of our children. But of all the memorable anthropomorphic creatures Carle has given us, my favorite has always been the mannerless rude dude of the insect world, the Grouchy Ladybug.


This greedy glutton has a classic bad attitude, unwilling to share any of the tasty aphids that abound in plenty on the leaf he's visiting. He tries to intimidate a friendlier ladybug, but when this more well-adjusted bug calls his bluff and expresses a willingness to fight, our protagonist takes the route of most bullies and gets small fast. In a Trumpian performance, the Grouchy Ladybug dismissively denigrates his potential opponent, claiming they're beneath his notice and not big enough to fight. He flies off, victim of his own insecurities and someone who refuses to be bullied.


He repeats this exercise with increasingly larger animals, all of whom take him up on his boasting bluster and all of whom scare him off. Finally he comes up against a whale, who doesn't even notice the bug and slaps his arrogant red butt all he way back to his original leaf. Chastened and humbled, our ladybug figures that sharing is an easier road than violent posturing. It's a classic book because of this satisfying storyline, classic Carle art, and the unique touches like the different sized pages, the progressing marginal clock, and the signature menagerie of fauna, and it's a heartwarming ending because Grouchy learns and modifies his behavior. Would that others demonstrated a similar capacity for growth.

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