I think we're all familiar with those stories that feature creatures who, under any other circumstances, we'd shudder to get close to but who we're now rooting for in every possible way: Charlotte, a gray barn spider, in Charlotte's Web, the intelligent rats in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, a little mouse with a lot of spunk in The Tale of Despereaux, to name a few.
But what if the story features an unsavory character, and then does nothing to change your opinion so that by the end of the book you're not sympathetic in the least but happily squash him with a satisfactory smack?
In The Fly, a common housefly narrates his plight: Here he is with "two googly eyes, six hairy legs, [and] two transparent wings," but for some reason, people don't like him. He spends most of the book dodging a boy with a flyswatter, while explaining why the life of a fly is hard and dangerous.
By the end of the book, we've seen him buzzing around a light (156 times), taking a nibble on fruit and cookies, and landing on a boy's forehead. All of the behaviors that we don't like in flies are showcased, front and center. Is it any wonder then that, at the end when he is pleading with the reader to please don't close the book, we can't help but take the two covers and smash them together as quickly as possible (we all know how fast flies can be . . . )? I can think of just one person (my sweet sister-in-law, bless her) who would finish the book by leaving the last page open so the fly could continue on his terrorizing way.
The magic of this book is that the fly involves the reader in his story. He tells the reader what he likes to do. He shares his frustrations and fears. And then he appeals to the reader's sense of justice and mercy. The story ends with the question, "Do you want to squash me?" hanging in the air. Every time you read it, the ending can be different (but so far, it's always the same with my kids: SLAM followed by maniacal laughter. I admit, they seem to get a sort of diabolical pleasure each time they squish the fly).
I am a long-time fan of Petr Horacek's illustrations, and this story is filled with the same bright colors and bold textures I've come to love in his work. Against this backdrop, the fly actually looks quite realistic. Perhaps even too realistic. It is this realism that makes it all the easier to snap the book shut at the end.
Like it or not, flies are an undeniable part of summer. My kids are constantly leaving the doors open, inviting the flies in (and letting Clark out). So we've been loving this book, which always sends my boys running for the fly swatter as soon as we're finished.
Many thanks to Candlewick Press for providing a copy of the book to review. All opinions are my own.