KidPages: Fireflies! by Julie Brinckloe

Jun 23, 2014

Friends keep asking me how it's going with four kids, and the truth is, if you have a live-in nanny and housekeeper, it's really not so hard at all.

But sadly, the nanny and housekeeper (i.e., my sister and my mom) are on their way home today. We are already missing them.

While they were here, my mom asked if there was a book I'd been wanting for the boys. Um, a book? As in, one? Normally this would have been a nearly impossible task, but this time I knew exactly which book we wanted.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a great list of summer picture books on This Picture Book Life (an excellent blog, by the way). The first one on the list was Fireflies! by Julie Brinckloe. I'd never seen the book before, so I immediately went to put it on hold.

And . . . neither of our library systems had a copy. We really have two excellent libraries, and so it's unusual to be unable to get what I want. And there's something about not being able to have something that makes you want it even more.

So when my mom asked, "Is there a book you want for the boys?" I immediately thought of this one.

The story takes place on a perfect summer evening. It's growing dark as a boy hurries to finish his dinner so he can grab a jar and run outside to catch fireflies. His friends are all outside with their jars too, and they pass away the evening hours running and chasing and catching. By the time the boy returns home, his jar is filled with the tiny glowing bugs. He puts it on his nightstand to use as a nightlight. The light slowly begins to fade, and he must make a difficult decision before he goes to sleep for the night.

We live in a place devoid of fireflies, and so they hold a certain magical elusiveness for all of us. None of my boys have ever seen a firefly or held one in their hands. Every time I think of this, I want to cry. These are my boys who catch any bug they can find and give them names and take them for rides on their bikes. They would go wild if they saw a firefly in real life.

I grew up catching fireflies one week each summer when my family would visit my grandmas in Nebraska and Iowa. I tell ya, those bugs were made for kids. They don't bite, they're easy to catch, and the fact that they light up almost makes them too good to be real. And from my memories, this book captures everything that is wonderful about fireflies. It's the kind of book that if you've had the experience, it brings it back with vivid clarity, and if you haven't, it makes you almost feel like you know what it's like.

First, the illustrations. They are made up of a small palette of colors: black and white, grays and blues, with bright spots of yellow. They are shadowy and dusky. Details are lost as the light fades away, but they return in the glow of lamplight and firefly light. The scenes feel true, as if they've been enacted thousands of times on the quiet streets of small-town USA.

The text is beautiful with just the right amount of random details. For example, before he goes outside, the boy remembers he must put holes in the lid of his jar: "And as quietly as I could, so she wouldn't catch me dulling them, I poked holes in the top of the jar with Momma's scissors." I don't know if it's because my own mom is particular about her scissors or what, but I love that sentence and the glimpse it gives us into the boy's home. Or this one: "We ran like crazy, barefoot in the grass." I know my boys would be barefoot too. They live for summer and the casting off of shoes.

I've been so enchanted with the text and illustrations of this story, I was hoping Julie Brinckloe had written and illustrated many more. But I can find almost no information about her. It looks like she maybe wrote a few other books that weren't widely published. At any rate, I'm sad to see there isn't more by her.

Whether you've cupped a firefly between your hands or just dreamed about doing so, this is a book I would highly recommend to experience the magic of summer.


  1. Oh how, this looks stunning!! Thanks for sharing!

  2. This looks like a great book! And you had your baby — congratulations! I've been really out of the loop the past few months, but I hope you and your family are doing well. I can only imagine how hard it would be to have four kids. Two are enough for me right now. :)

  3. I’ve missed the fireflies of my youth these many years we have lived in Colorado. So you can imagine my surprise and joy a couple of years ago when our ward youth conference was held at a small private lake northeast of Sterling, CO and the fireflies began appearing as the sun set. The lake had a small outlet stream that ran past the camping/picnic area. That stream apparently created just the right moisture conditions and habitat for fireflies and they were everywhere, delighting everyone. You are correct: what could be better than a bug that doesn’t bite, is easy to catch, and lights up.


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