Reviews /

Fly Boy

Authored by J.J. Bola
Illustrated by Clara Anganuzzi
Published by Simon and Schuster

Tagged , ,

Fly Boy is a picture book about a boy struggling with the difficult emotions which are stopping him learning to fly.

This story is set in a world where children have wings. The Fly Boy of the title is upset and frustrated and seems to be the only one who can’t fly. He lets his feelings out angrily, which makes things even harder. Eventually, with the help of a friend, he confronts and eventually overcomes his negative feelings and is thrilled by all he can now achieve.

Many children are enchanted by the idea of being able to fly and they will be struck by the shiny, blue and red wings on the cover of the book. Are they fairies? Are they angels? Superheroes? This might be the first of many talking points for parents and educators reading the book to children. Younger children might struggle to get the metaphor of flying representing achieving, learning or growing but they will easily understand the frustration of not being able to do something when it seems that everyone else can.

Despite the magical feel created by the idea of children with wings, the issues arising are very real ones about children’s mental health and how this can affect their ability to learn. The characters’ feelings are clearly conveyed in the simple facial expressions and by Clara Anganuzzi’s striking use of reds and blues. Fly Boy’s struggles present an ideal opportunity to discuss emotions. Why might he feel sad? What has made you feel angry? What does it mean to feel jealous? We are given a clue about the possible causes of Fly Boy’s upset in a spread showing the dark silhouette of an adult argument accompanied by the words, ‘A crash, a bang, a scream, a shout. There’s so much noise inside this house‘. Children might want to talk about this though any discussion of the issue of domestic violence would have to be dealt with sensitively.

Fly Boy lets out his emotions aggressively at school and, as is the case in real classrooms, this has an effect on his classmates. Talking about Fly Boy and his problems presents an opportunity for children to explore and share how they might feel in this situation and to develop empathy for children facing mental health struggles. Some children might feel the same as the protagonist and welcome the chance to talk about their difficulties in a safe space.

How does Fly Boy learn to fly? ‘It’s a book about love’ was one child’s comment on seeing the two boys hugging on the cover and Fly Boy’s friendship with blue-winged Thomas is central to his transformation. Calm, peaceful and kind, Thomas provides an excellent role model for Fly Boy and for the reader. He inspires Fly Boy with his wise words, ‘You can’t fly angry, you can’t fly mad. You can’t fly jealous, you can’t fly sad‘. He offers him support and acceptance in his hug and Fly Boy makes a decision to change himself. Children will enjoy noticing the blush of blue which starts to spread across his wings before he soars into the sky. Thomas’s actions offer an opportunity to talk about how children can help each other to overcome problems and upsets.

The story in this book is a simple one and the clear, rhyming language of the text paired with the appealing illustrations leaves space for much thought and discussion. This book would be enjoyed independently by children in the reading area of an Early Years and KS1 classroom. As a class read-aloud, or as part of circle time, it would provide the opportunity for much teacher-led talk about its themes of friendship, emotions and overcoming difficulties.