Reynolds, A. (2009). Joey Fly Private Eye in Creepy Crawly Crime. New York: Henry Hold and Company.
Appetizer: Joey Fly is a private eye, intent on returning Bug City to the innocent bugs who are just trying to get by.
....Wow, describing this graphic novel really does lend itself to rhyming. I blame the title.
When Sammy Stingtail enters Joey's office he knows the young scorpion looks like trouble. And he is. Sammy wants to be Joey's new assistant. Joey takes in the scorpion and soon the two receive their first case from a butterfly named Delilah who is missing her diamond pencil box. But the detectives won't be able to solve the case if they can't find a way to get along (I mean, could a scorpion and fly every truly coexist comfortably?).
Joey Fly's narration truly captures that film noir detective voice that's been popular for decades. Except, he's much more humorous, with jokes that will appeal to many middle grade readers (but may seem a little silly to early young adult readers).
You can get a sample of the voice by watching the book trailer:
As I began reading, I was a little worried about the way gender roles would be presented. Following the usual content and archetypes of detective fiction, then the men would be macho and the women would be sex objects or victims. Delilah pretty much confirmed my worry. She's described as a beautiful butterfly and as being "one ant short of a picnic" (p 16). Another female character who provides a helpful lead is stereotyped, with Joey narrating, "It's scary, all the junk females keep under their wings" (p. 49).
The lack of empowered female characters was really a downer for me. As a girl, I felt excluded by the story and a little insulted. The cure? Watching episodes of Veronica Mars. But still, even though I liked what this book was doing, the fact that the story didn't challenge the way female characters are presented in detective stories killed my enjoyment. Just killed it. Literally, this would have been a four or five explanation point story, but it's been relegated back down to average levels of excitement: !!!
Now, some might argue, that the entire story is about playing into the stereotypes of detective noir stories. And that might be true. But still, there was an opportunity to improve the genre, and it was ignored.
*Steps off the soapbox*
"Life in the bug city. It ain't easy. Crime sticks to this city like a one-winged fly on a fifty-cent swatter" (p. 7).
"My name's Fly. Joey Fly, Private Eye" (p. 9).
Sammy: "Fighting crime is my gig. I'm looking for work."
Joey (narrating): "They say crime doesn't pay, but fighting it paid me pretty well. I had more cases than a flea has dogs. Maybe I could use an assistant. This bug seemed like just the guy" (p. 10).
"But I didn't have time for that now, for at that moment, a customer walked in.
A butterfly. Swallowtail, if I didn't miss my guess. She was a tall drip of water. And I was suddenly feeling parched" (p. 13).
"I work for crumbs. Literally. And these were the good stuff. Angel food cake crumbs. Fifty big ones" (p. 18).
"My assistant may have his faults, but when it comes to pointing out the obvious, he's sharper than a bumblebee's butt" (p. 36).
To Go with the Meal:
Aside from encouraging visual literacy, this text encourages its readers to identify the types of insects and arachnids that are characters. For example, when Sammy Stingtail first enters Joey's office, he's described as a "crusty arachnid type. His stinger gave away his species. Scorpion. But young, barely hatched" (p. 10). Plus, since Sammy is a young scorpion, he's meant to be a relatable figure for young readers to relate to. (Just in case an old jaded detective fly doesn't appeal).
Also, Sammy is new to the crime-fighting biz. So, as Joey Fly shares the rules of how to gather evidence and treat suspects the reader can learn too (that is of course, assuming they haven't grown-up with a crime procedural on a TV in the background of their entire short little lives).
I think this series would be a wonderful read to try to engage reluctant readers, especially boys who are entertained by bugs or mysteries.
Students could act out parts of the story easily, interviewing one another as they search for the pencil box thief. They could also develop their own stories following the model of Joey Fly or they could illustrate their own character ideas, choosing from other species and paying attention to drawing the insect anatomy correctly.
The book can also be used to discuss jealousies and conflict resolutions as well as how to determine who you can trust when multiple kids are giving different accounts of an event.
This would be a fun read to support a science lesson on insects (their eating habits, anatomical structures, etc.)
Tasty Rating: !!!