Friday, April 3, 2009

Walk into my Parlor for National Poetry Month

I recently read Tony DiTerlizzi's picture book rendition of The Spider and the Fly with my kids and thought it was wonderful. If you're looking for a picture book to include in your celebration of National Poetry Month, be sure to check this one out.

The text of the book is Mary Howitt's famous poem, The Spider and the Fly, first published in 1829. You probably are familiar with this poem to some extent, though many folks misquote the first line as "Come into my parlor, said the Spider to the Fly." (It's actually "'Will you walk into my parlor?' said the Spider to the Fly." See the Wikipedia article on the poem, which includes a link to the text of the poem, as well as the text of a Lewis Carroll parody called The Lobster Quadrille that was included in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.) The poem is a cautionary tale about a cunning Spider that cajoles and flatters a Fly who has, in fact, heard of the Spider and knows better (at first) than to listen to his promises of a lovely visit and restful stay. Eventually, however, the Fly succumbs to the Spider's flattery (just as the Spider knew she would) and of course, never again returns from the Spider's lair.

DiTerlizzi's detailed black and white illustrations are wonderfully dark and old-fashioned feeling, with clever touches, such as furniture and curtains in the Spider's home made from dead bugs and butterfly wings, ghostly bugs trying to warn off the Fly (one pointing out a copy of The Joy of Cooking Bugs), and the fact that the Spider's home is inside a doll house. DiTerlizzi's visual interpretation of the poem was impressive enough to make the book a Caldecott Honor Book in 2003 (the Wikipedia article on Mary Howitt, linked to above, incorrectly states that the book won this honor in 2007).

DiTerlizzi includes a letter from the Spider at the end of the book, cautioning readers about the fact that "spiders are not the only hunters and bugs are not the only victims." Just as the poem itself says, "And now, dear little children, who may this story read,/To idle, silly flattering words I pray you ne'er give heed:/Unto an evil counselor, close heart and ear and eye,/And take a lesson from this tale of the Spider and the Fly." So besides being a treat to listen to (and look at in this version), the poem teaches a valuable lesson to kids about not allowing themselves to be lured by strangers or by crafty people in general. With older kids, it is worth pointing out that it is likely not by chance that Howitt made her Fly female and the Spider male--there are more complex lessons for girls and women that might be learned from Howitt's words.

Though great for any time of year, the dark nature of the tale and illustrations might make this a nice selection to share with kids at Halloween.

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