Mary Howitt,
The Spider & the Fly
(Simon & Schuster, 2002)

Originally published by Mary Howitt (in another format) in 1829, this poem is at least vaguely familiar to many today. For the first few pages, lines of the tale were coming back to me, pulled from some foggy childhood memory.

"Will you walk into my parlor?" said the spider to the fly.

I remember that. I remember it sounded like a bad idea, too.

The twisty, gnarly spider, appearing as nothing more than bamboo sticks held together by evening dress, towers over the frail, spindly fly. The fly is undeniably tempting, eyes wide and round, flower-petal lips, a fringed flapper dress and an air of absolute naivete. She has at least enough wits to resist a while, "Oh no, no," said the little fly, "to ask me is in vain...."

But alas, enchanted by the spider's charm and the richness of his abode, she is lured in to his lair, despite the ghostly visages of past victims and against her better sense.

I cannot tell you there is a happy ending here. Although it is fancied up with pictures and rhyming words, this is a portrayal of nature doing what it does: surviving off itself. Parents should be cautioned perhaps, as the ending is a little unsettling, and the detailed pictures lend a tragic atmosphere to the events.

But it is indeed a "cautionary tale," as stated on the front cover. Even a very young child can grasp the meaning of this conversational poetic warning. And though I don't think the world is an overall dangerous place of which children must constantly be wary, there are situations for which they should be taught defenses. A book like this is an excellent way to get across the "don't talk to strangers" lecture, while still being entertaining in the process. As we progress through each re-reading of this book, my children like to call out warnings to the fly, or tell stories about what they would have done differently.

The poem would stand alone, but combined with the amazing artwork of Tony DiTerlizzi, the book is a masterpiece. Done with a combination of lamp black, white gouache and Berol Prismacolor Pencil, the original plates were reproduced in silver and black duotone. Throw in a little computer magic, and the result is one of the most haunting and ghastly collection of images since, perhaps, Edward Gorey. For this work, DiTerlizzi received a Caldecott Honor, awarded for outstanding illustrations in children's literature.

- Rambles
written by Katie Knapp
published 28 February 2004

[ visit Tony DiTerlizzi's website ]

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