CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 13 . . . . December 1, 2017
Springtime means it's time for bugs. And Helen, the main character in Robert Munsch's picturebook, Blackflies, knows the bugs are bad when sixteen gazillion blackflies and mosquitoes sweep away her younger pyjama-clad sister Megan "to the black spruce forest where the wolves and bears live."
When her father suffers the same fate, Helen takes charge. She eventually finds bug spray strong enough that it "Even Knocks Out Wolves." But nobody, including a wolf and a bear, is happy when she accidentally gets the yucky bug spray into their faces. There's a final unexpected chase as sixty-four gazillion mosquitoes and blackflies "decided that they LIKED the bug spray." Helen, her sister, and her dad flee back to their house before choosing bug hats and bug jackets as a solution for enjoying a walk outdoors in spring just as a curious bear looks on.
Throughout the story, there are fun, repetitive sound effects from the drone of bugs, to people yelling from underneath clouds of bugs, to a distinct "YUCK! GLACK! GLUBAHHH!" which is set off in a distinct font and appears through several spreads as people and wild creatures alike get inadvertently sprayed by Helen.
The illustrations are digitally rendered in a modern cartoon style by Jay Odjick who is an artist and writer from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Algonquin community. Odjick's background in comics and creating an animated series shines through in the artwork which will appeal to young children who enjoy cartoon characters with funny, exaggerated expressions. The illustrations depict a First Nations family, and one interior home scene includes Indigenous artwork. Other spreads show generic Canadian outdoor scenes that include forest backgrounds, a log house, a bear, and a wolf.
Inspired by the author's true-life meeting with a girl named Helen and her family in Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta, this humorous book has wide appeal. Blackflies will resonate with anyone familiar with the challenges of mosquitoes and blackflies in northern forests, and others less familiar with that problem will be equally drawn to the comic antics of Helen as she copes with her buzzing enemies. While the playful sound effects will enhance classroom or library read-aloud times, children learning to read alone will also have fun with the language and be encouraged by repeating text that will help reinforce reading skills.
Anita Miettunen is a writer based in Vancouver, BC. She is completing a Master of Arts in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia.