The Spider and the Fly
Mary Howitt (based on her cautionary tale)
Tony DiTerlizzi, illustrator
Simon and Shuster, 2002
Caldecott Honor (and multiple others!)

“Will you come into my parlor,” said the spider to the fly…. This famous poem was first published in 1829. Tony DiTerlizzi takes it and makes it into a deliciously creepy cautionary tale. One of my favorite reads this summer (and I read 300 picture books!), it’s a perfect picture book to explore a little during October.

Palette: This book is completely done in black and white. This adds, of course, to its ghostly, haunted-house feel. There are ghost bugs that glow ominously in their transparent bodies. And DiTerlizzi fills many pages with details that would be overkill in color, but which add tremendously to the subtle background. For instance, in one early spread, we almost don’t notice that the wallpaper is patterned with flies, the lamp on the wall is a fly, the footstool is a lady bug (with “dead x” eyes), and the cookbook on the side table is titled The Joy of Cooking Bugs. These are the sorts of details that reward a close reading of the book, but because the palette is black and white, they don’t jump out and overwhelm the picture.

Details: Since I mentioned the details, let me elaborate a touch. There is so much to see in this book! A fun accompaniment to a bug unit, there are buggy details everywhere. Each room has different bugs on the wallpaper. The table is laid with a variety of buggy delights. A large horned beetle is mounted over the fireplace. If the poor fly would just look around! The audience wants to warn her to stay away from this spiderly gentleman. He’s not what he seems!

Silent Film: The presence of several pages that are completely black save for the text in the center and a spider web in the background add to the silent black-and-white film feel nicely. The whole book thus feels like an old horror film whose melodrama is almost funny to our modern eyes.

Characterization: I don’t usually discuss this much in a picture book, but this book presents such clear characters. DiTerlizzi even includes a letter from the spiderly gentleman at the end that essentially asks readers, “what did you expect? I’m a spider after all.” Since the bugs along the way are silently warning the fly, and since she’s presented as quite the gullible female, and since she seems totally immune to any and all signs of danger, the reader feels like the end is unavoidable. In fact, the spider himself is more the character we focus on. He’s so charismatic and charming, we all fall under his spell.

Book from local library (although it’s available in many local bookstores for this season!); cover image from publisher’s website