Sometimes it’s hard to pull off a particular style when writing for kids. Are the kids going to get it? Will they understand the nuances of word choice, the significance of color schemes, the jokes? Aaron Reynolds and Neil Numberman take film noir, apply some schtick, and make what can be a dry sub-genre work for elementary school-age kids.
Title: Joey Fly, Private Eye, in Creepy Crawly Crime
Author: Aaron Reynolds
Artist: Neil Numberman
Age Rating: 8+
Henry Holt, April 2009, 978-0-8050-8786-4
96 pages, $9.95
Private investigator, Joey Fly, gets more than he bargained for when he takes on a young scorpion as his new assistant. Sammy Stingtail is brash, clumsy, and completely clueless as to how to work a case. When the lovely and curvaceous Delilah, a swallowtail butterfly, turns to Joey for help in finding her missing diamond pencil box, Sammy gets the team fired when he accuses her of being guilty of the crime without first looking at any evidence. Joey keeps the investigation alive, conducting interviews with two of Delilah’s ex-friends and teaching Sammy the ropes as the evidence builds.
Set in a film noir world much like the one seen in Bruce Hale’s Chet Gecko series, Joey Fly, Private Eye is played much more obviously for laughs. Using an overabundance of altered expressions (“Life in the bug city.” “And then it hit her like a rolled up newspaper.”), the plot unrolls into a traditional, if slight, detective story, complete with a gathering of the suspects at the end. The droll jokes work well with the clean artwork and there is often a sight gag hidden in the background of the larger panels. Colors are used sparingly, mimicking the look of film noir and also signaling key developments in the story.
Many of the idioms used may be unfamiliar to younger readers and the significance of the colors chosen may be completely lost on all but the most genre-savvy readers. But none of this will matter to the target age group, since variations of the jokes appear often enough that readers will be able to tell from the context what is going on and there are enough details in the panels that readers bored by the lack of color will find something else to capture their attention. All in all, this is a solid entry in a brand new series. Budding mystery fans will enjoy this spoof on classic hard-boiled detective fiction.