July 19, 2015

The Mosquito Brothers

by Griffin Ondaatje
Illustrated by Erica Salcedo
Groundwood Books
128 pp.
Ages 7-9
May 2015
(Reviewed from advance reading copy)

Humans may have silly inventions like glass.  But we have the power to pester them to total distraction. (pg. 41)
Can you think of a better time to review a book called The Mosquito Brothers than in July when our recent cool and wet days have me scratching for bug juice so that my face isn't littered with the very insects that don the cover of Griffin Ondaatje's latest from Groundwood Books?  I can't.

What Jonathan Livingston Seagull did for the gull, The Mosquito Brothers does for the much-maligned mosquito, giving a back story with family, flight, fancy and friends for one young mosquito named Dinnn (yes, triple n's).  Dinnn, one of 401 young born to Corrina Culiseta-Woo and Brad Needles, learns very early that flying is not his thing and vows to walk wherever.  Luckily being born in a puddle at the edge of the parking lot of the Lakeside Drive-In Theater provides convenient access to level ground and asphalt. Unluckily, walking is not a cool thing for a mosquito to do.  Not surprising, when Dinnn finds a leather jacket, he is convinced it makes him look cool, especially after his mother refashions its emblem to The Mosquito Brothers.  But, no one else seems to think it’s cool so while Dinnn follows all the mosquito protocols (e.g., going to school, studying life cycles, participating in Dragonfly drills), he dreams of having an adventure.

Knowing that his mother was from the Wild i.e., the countryside where she accidentally left behind her only surviving son from that batch of flying teeth, Dinnn sees the Wild as his chance to shine.  And when the red minivan that brought his mom from the Wild and picked his dad up at the gas station shows up at the drive-in, it’s Dinnn and the entire family’s chance for a road trip to the Wild.

Dinnn may be a mosquito but he’s every child who doesn’t fit in and wants desperately to be accepted, even popular.  He finds the means to be himself, much to the appall of his siblings and peers, but it’s only when the city mosquito reaches the country that he is able to be appreciated by others and appreciate himself as well.  With tongue in cheek (or is that proboscis in skin?), Griffin Ondaatje pokes fun, with sensitivity, to the need for most of us to fit in, even if it means putting on a heavy leather jacket that makes things even harder, and heavier, to assimilate.  (After all, just like Dinnn, we don’t always make wise choices as to what constitutes coolness, right?)

The Mosquito Brothers is a delightful story of accepting one’s strengths and weaknesses and finding ways to manage them.  Though the awareness that these insects hovering around brings me to distraction, Griffin Ondaatje and Erica Salcedo have created loveable individuals with quirky characteristics (for example, Dinnn's father is a floater who is drawn to the addictively large screen of the drive-in, and Gus is a stocky and hairy country mosquito who seems like more of a bruiser than a poker) who cause less irritation and more amusement than might seem possible in an early reader about mosquitoes.
Dinnn’s father sat in the school office for two days filling out registration leaves, but so many of his kids had pesticide allergies that the paperwork took all his energy, and he fell asleep in the hall by the juice machine. (pg. 36)
But, if you think The Mosquito Brothers is all fun and games, guess again because the plethora of valuable life cycle information, including an addendum of true or false questions, transforms the story into a dual-natured fact and fiction early reader perfect for laughs and learning in the classroom.

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