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Book Review: Fireflies by Julie Brinckloe

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In print since 1985, Julie Brinckloe’s Fireflies – selected as a Reading Rainbow book – has found a comfortable, ongoing status as a minor classic of modern children’s literature. Having far outlasted the glut of flash-in-the-pan picture books found in any recent decade, Brinckloe’s snapshot of one summer evening filled with wide-eyed wonder and discovery clings to its status as a solid library add.

Both illustrated and authored by Brinckloe, Fireflies spins an enchantingly evocative story that vividly portrays the emotional tenor of summer evenings spent catching fireflies, and glorying in the wonders of nature. From the thrill of anticipation, to the joy of the chase, the glow of possession, and the bittersweet compassion of release, Brickloe’s carefully developed prose rings true.

Illustrated with action-filled pencil drawings filled with feathery texture, the only glimpses of colour Brinckloe adds from her palette are blue and yellow watercolours, sparingly used for accentuation. Undeniably lovely, these understated illustrations may not be appreciated by young audiences if there only exposure to picture books has been the blaringly bright, cartoonish, or hard-edged illustrations that are so dominant in today’s picture books.

Proving itself a well-written title, my six and three-year-olds were drawn into the story the first read through. They immediately settled as I read, and listened intently to the lyrical story of a boy who captures an entire jar of fireflies, only to release them reluctantly as they fade on his night table. Though they asked for a repeat reading as soon as I finished, Fireflies doesn’t seem to have made a deep impression on my children so far. When I asked my oldest for her thoughts she was distinctly neutral in her opinion. Perhaps additional repeated readings will awaken a deeper appreciation for the book in her; she still seemed somewhat confused as to the boy’s mixed emotions at the end of the story.

Parents of children who use scissors inappropriately may want to note a scene wherein the main character uses his mother’s scissors to punch holes in the lid of the jar he’ll use to catch his fireflies in. Knowing of his mother’s displeasure should she learn of his unauthorized scissors use, he acts stealthily and without permission. Having found my own children cutting (and consequently destroying) a wide variety of household items, this page made me groan and quickly add a warning to my own youngsters. If their misdemeanors have taught me anything (other than hide the scissors up high), it’s that the boy in question is acting in an entirely believable fashion.

Nostalgia for adults, familiarity for children, and the emotive flowing quality of Brinckloe’s work are clearly the winning ingredients that have allowed Fireflies to withstand the test of time. Having lived too far to the west to have grown up with chances to catch fireflies for myself as a child I now feel a vague sense of regret for having missed out on what is clearly a quintessential experience in the lives of many youngsters.

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About Jennifer Bogart