Wolfie & Fly – written by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Zoe Si
Tundra Books, 2017
If you’re looking for something different in a chapter book or middle-grade novel, Wolfie & Fly is it. Written by versatile author Cary Fagan, with wonderful drawings by Zoe Si, it tells the story of two oddball kids, Renata Wolfman and Livingston Flott. (I have also reviewed Fagan’s work here and here and here and here.) Given the sometimes cruel humor of children, Renata has become known among her classmates as Wolfie, because her introverted personality makes her seem a “lone wolf.” Livingston’s nickname is “Fly,” because, as he readily admits, “I buzz around and annoy people.” They’re not exactly Frog and Toad, but, by the end of the book, this unlikely duo has formed a friendship. Every child who feels that she is too introverted, too extroverted, or too anything else, will identify with their bond.
Renata is uninterested in shopping for clothes except for overalls and white T-shirts. She prefers to curl up with a book, and disdains her parents’ suggestion that everyone needs friends. Then, one day, Livingston stops by her house, just as she was about to convert a cardboard refrigerator carton into one of her creative construction projects. A submarine seems like a great idea! Fagan details Renata’s amazing collection of seemingly useless items, which she uses to engineer everything from a model of the Golden Gate Bridge to a peanut-tossing catapult. She reluctantly agrees to allow Livingston to help her.
Livingston plays the guitar and improvises song lyrics, narrating his life like a modern troubadour. (“You opened the door and you/let me run in./’Cause I was being chased by one of/my kin.”). Soon the carton is a submarine complete with control panel and the two not-yet friends are navigating the deep sea. Is their trip imaginary or real? They pass everything along the way, from sharks and jellyfish to “an old DVD player, a sofa and even a toilet.” Soon Wolfie and Fly are discussing environmental pollution, confronting pirates, and admiring the beauty of the ocean. As in Dr. Seuss’s the Cat in the Hat, parents have to eventually return. Reality and fantasy sort themselves out. Wolfie and Fly have come to like and respect one another. Their adventure has all of the internal logic of childhood, full of contradictions and excitement. This ode to unlikely friendships and unlimited imagination is a wonder.