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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Red Spider Hero, written by John Miller and illustrated by Guiliano Cucco. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2015. $23.50 ages 3 and up

"One day, Harry began to stamp his feet and yell and carry on in such a way that everyone gathered around to see what was the matter. "I'm tired of being a little spider on a small patch of sidewalk!" Harry hollered. "I want to see the world! So I've made up my mind to run away and become the most famous spider ... "

I had no idea how tiny red spider mites are! Luckily, the author ensures that we do know more by the time we finish his book about a young spider with a burning desire to know about the wider world.

All his spider relatives and friends are happy with their lot in life. Not Harry! His grandfather seems amenable to Harry's leaving; he does have a reminder for his young grandson:

"If you want to run away, go right ahead, Harry.
But it will take you more than a week to reach the
end of the sidewalk, and a whole year of climbing
through grass to cross the park."

Harry is not to be deterred. He has a boat in mind and plans to build it before the next rainfall. He won't just sail on the raindrops either. He has bigger plans ... much bigger plans than that. Those plans involve sailing and hunting and exploring and making his name a household word around the entire world.

Always encouraging, and relying on life experience, Harry's grandfather shows his wisdom by making suggestions that give Harry pause, and a chance to carefully consider the plans he is making. First plan in the tank, he offers up another, and then another. With a clearer head, he makes a change in his planning and finds that home might just be the best place to be.

 A final page offers some interesting information about red spider mites, leaving young readers with a new quest to undertake when it comes to being outside and combing their world for new discoveries.

Young Harry the red spider mite dreams of glory. In the short information page that follows this artful, gladdening story, readers learn that spider mites are “smaller than the head of a pin,” which also makes them cousins to angels, and Harry couldn’t be much sweeter. As Miller dreamed him up (some 50 years ago and only now seeing the light of print), Harry has an itch to know what lies beyond his little patch of sidewalk. Harry’s grandfather is a wise old geezer sporting overalls, a pipe, and a boater who encourages Harry to live his wildest dreams in his head. When Harry declares he is running away, his grandfather says, “go right ahead, Harry. But it will take you more than a week to reach the end of the sidewalk.” OK, right, then he’ll stay there and become a famous hunter, until he considers the beasts’ poisonous fangs and spooky eyes. He’ll escape on the back of a flea and join a flea circus, and so on. After a series of further imaginary adventures, Harry sighs. He’s a little tired. “Now I must rest and play with my friends.” Harry may flag, but this tale won’t burn out, nor will Cucco’s illustrations, with their M&M colors and their shared aesthetic with William Steig, Jules Feiffer, and Quentin Blake. Just so, a story that celebrates the dreams of even the smallest of us—the really, really smallest.

The Red Spider Hero, which tells the story of an teeny-tiny red spider who dreams big and longs for adventure. As he talks with his grandfather, the big-dreaming, little spider sails forth on the wings of his imagination. Since red spiders are microscopically small, they are too small to go far, but they can dream!

Harry is so unhappy, in fact, that he has a foot-stomping fit, during which he loudly announces his intentions to see the world and "become the most famous spider to have ever lived." All the other spiders look alarmed. Harry's green-hatted grandfather says "go right ahead," but warns Harry that it'll take him a year just to cross the park. Harry is undaunted, boasting that he'll sail on a boat in a river of raindrops to the ocean, then go deep into the jungle and be a famous hunter and explorer. Harry's imagined exploits become more and more ambitious, even taking him to outer space. The late Italian artist Giuliano Cucco's playful, color-soaked illustrations make the outlandish scenarios leap to life, whether Harry is circled by ferocious jungle animals or performing as a flea rider in a circus. Throughout Harry's tirade, his grandfather calmly warns the wee mite of the dangers that may face him--"fleas like to eat little red spiders," for instance--but heroic Harry has his escapes planned out, too.

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