The Spider and the Fly illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi

  • Title: The Spider and the Fly
  • Author: Mary Howitt
  • Illustrator: Tony DiTerlizzi
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
  • Year Published: 2002
  • ISBN: 0689852894
  • List Price: $17.99
  • Page Count: 40
  • Age Range: 4-8
  • Genre: poem
  • Award(s): Caldecott Honor Book; see more here.

Author information: Tony DiTerlizzi has written books for children of all ages, and is well known for his collaboration with Holly Black on The Spiderwick Chronicles. His website is quite busy and full of information that fans will enjoy. The homepage showcases a featured video, featured galleries of DiTerlizzi’s artwork, upcoming book releases, and the most recent entries in his blog. His website also has an extensive biographical section, with a personal biography, FAQ pages about his life and work, and transcipts from interviews he’s given to a variety of publications. There are also links to his complete blog, art galleries and sketchbooks, his YouTube channel, and bibliographic information.

Reviews: Booklist, School Library Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly all gave this book good reviews. They all agreed that the monochromatic artwork and the panels with text presented as if it is a silent movie caption are darkly humorous and a perfect companion to the original poem. Kirkus also gave it a positive review, saying, “The illustrations embrace the primness of the poem—the wide-eyed fly is the very picture of a bygone innocence—but introduce a wealth of detail that adds a thick layer of humor.”

Readers annotation: The Fly knows better, but can she resist the Spider’s temptations?

Summary: This classic poem depicts the Spider trying to lure the Fly into his web so he can eat her. He promises her a variety of delights if she will step into his parlor, from a warm bed to enticing treats from his pantry. She refuses, but finally the temptation proves to be too much for her and she gives in, only to be eaten by the Spider.

Evaluation: DiTerlizzi’s illustration style for this book is superb. He uses black and white illustrations that mimic the look of an old silent film, with the Fly dressed up as a the leading lady and the Spider as the stereotypical 1920s villain. This artwork refreshes a classic poem in a way that makes it feel relevant again, and adds suspense and drama in a way that the original is lacking. Because of the artwork, I was actually surprised at the ending, because, in true silent movie fashion, I had expected that the villain would be thwarted. DiTerlizzi acknowledges this in an afterword, reminding readers that the story is about a spider and a fly and there really is only one way for the story to end. DiTerlizzi’s humor shines through in his illustrations with the inclusion of ghost bugs and spiders with sinister mustaches, which will appeal not only to children, but also the adults who read with them.

Rating and appeal factors:

  • Quality: 5/5 The artwork is unique and refreshing, and abounds with details that enhance the poem and keep readers engaged. Because of the attention to detail, the book holds up under multiple readings, as children and adults alike will discover new layers each time they look at the illustrations.
  • Popularity4/5  Readers who enjoy dark humor or dramatic illustrations will fall in love with this book, as will fans of poetry and rhymes with a more modern bent. This book may not appeal to readers who are squeamish or frighten easily, as the artwork is eerie and the Fly does get eaten in the end.
  • Appeal factors: cinematic artwork, dark humor, anthropomorphic animals, and poetry.

Read-alikes: 

  1.  Once Upon a Twice, written by Denise Doyen and illustrated by Barry Moser, would be a good recommendation for readers who liked that the story was in verse and appreciated the moral at the end. Once features a mouse who disobeys the warnings of his elders and goes adventuring at night, and shows the consequences of his actions. As with The Spider and the Fly, the illustrations help set the tone of the poem with pale mice against a dark background.
  2.  Readers who want more stories about mischievous spiders might enjoy Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti by Gerald McDermott. Although this story is not as sinister as DiTerlizzi’s, it still features a spider character who is a notorious trickster.

Book talk ideas: Ask if anybody has heard the original poem. Give them a brief overview of the plot and then ask them what they imagine this story would look like, or how they would draw the characters, and then show them a picture and ask them how it matches their expectation. Alternately, start with an image from the book and ask the children what they think is happening in it, and what they think will happen in the rest of the story based on what is going on in that picture.

Discussion questions/ideas:

  •  Did you expect the Spider to eat the Fly?
  • How do the illustrations in the book enhance the poem? Would you have drawn it differently if you were the illustrator?
  • What is the moral of this story?

Reason for reading: I saw the cover of this book and the black and white illustrations really captured me. I was unfamiliar with DiTerlizzi’s work and probably would have overlooked this book if I had just seen the title on a Caldecott list, but when I was searching Amazon for good award-winning reads, the picture of the cover came up and I immediately wanted to check it out.

Additional relevant information: Mary Howitt originally published this poem in 1829 and its first verse is among the most quoted first verses in all of poetry. Lewis Carroll parodied it in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in the form of the “Lobster Quadrille”.

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