Today’s author featured on the Picture Book Month calendar is Tony DiTerlizzi. I’m trying to keep pace with the calendar and blog about either the person or the theme featured each day of this month on the calendar. I’m currently reading his second book in the WondLa series (review to come soon hopefully), but since it’s picture book month I figured I should go back to his roots as a picture book illustrator.

Title: The Spider and the Fly
Author: Mary Howitt
Illustrator: Tony DiTerlizzi
ISBN: 0439579287
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, c2002.

“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly.

According to the author’s bio in the back of the book, DiTerlizzi of Spiderwick and now WondLa fame was a “relative newcomer to the world of children’s literature” when this book was published and won a Caldecott Honor. It’s hard to imagine that was just ten years ago. Perfect for spooky Halloween themed story times (oh wait, we’re done with those now, aren’t we?) DiTerlizzi breathes new life into a poem that is just shy of two centuries old. Although it turns didactic in the end when it cautions children “to idle, silly, flattering words I pray you ne’er give heed,” the beginning has a tension to it as it draws readers along with ultimately drawing the fly into the spider’s web.

DiTerlizzi’s illustrations are very well done, and I can easily see why he received a Caldecott Honor. My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohmann won that year, and he was in good company with two other honor titles, Hondo & Fabian by Peter McCarty and Noah’s Ark by Jerry Pinkney. Plus, that honor sticker looks so good on the cover, it matches the intended color scheme. The black and gray tones convey an appropriately eerie setting, and even though there are hints of lightness, only the font can be called pure white. The humor in this grisly tale is in the details. Spider has an extraordinarily large stove-pipe top hat, his house has a dragon-fly lightning rod (or maybe it’s a horse fly weather vane *chuckle*), and even the wallpaper is a repeating bug pattern. Fly is very prettily dressed in what resembles a flapper outfit to my uneducated eyes, with a fringed dress, a cute round hat, and a flower parasol.

My one complaint is regarding the layout of the book. The double page openings definitely set the tone for the story as we see first a large, possibly abandoned house, then zoom in to a smaller, doll house version that appears to have been abandoned in the attic. Then we switch back and forth from single to double page spreads as the story progresses. The single page spreads aren’t really single pages though, because they mimic the old silent movies. The illustration is on one side, and then a progressing spider web with the words is in the other side, inset into a black box with a border. I think I would have enjoyed it more if that layout had continued throughout the entire book and then ended with the last two pages being double spread, almost serving as book ends to the old movie style.

If that doesn’t make sense, I guess you’ll just have to look at the book to see what I mean, which I encourage you to do anyways. While probably not the best choice to use with story times due to the lack of color, I think it would still delight children who know how spiders and flies get along. As DiTerlizzi adds at the end; “What did you expect from a story about a spider and a fly? Happily ever after?” A great introduction to poetry too.

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