So, it’s past the middle of November, so I’m surprised to find myself surrounded by so many mosquitoes.
Living so close to the land, the other residents are regularly brushing elbows (and paws and wings and other appendages) with the Ingalls family.
There is a bear where Ma is expecting to find a cow (don’t worry: the cow is fine).
There are wolves in a den which everyone thought was abandoned.
Of course, Jack the brindle bull dog, who loyally follows the wagon, until he is too old to walk behind.
And, oh yes, so many grasshoppers. And, then, so many grasshopper eggs. Which leads, obviously, to many more grasshoppers.
So, it only makes sense to find mosquitoes there. (The grasshoppers had their own chapter too, also illustrated by Garth Williams.)
When I was a girl, I reread my favourite volumes of this series regularly. My favourite was always The Long Winter, after I was old enough to read them all, but my longest-time favourite would have been Little House in the Big Woods, because for some years I only read the volumes with the larger print (the first four, technically, but I never liked Farmer Boy, because it was not about a Farmer Girl).
As an older reader, I wonder how I crawled over the assumptions about ethnicity and gender roles which I likely read without questioning at the time. Ma declares that the “only good Indian is a dead Indian” and even though Pa has picked out a couple who pass muster with him, they are clearly exceptional in his mind.
Nonetheless, I intend to finish the series. Way back in my girlhood reading years, I learned the habit of leaving series unfinished, and I am trying to make good on some of those as an adult reader.
For even though I loved Laura’s propensity for mischief when I was younger, I had no patience with her when she got older, capable of all the same chores that Ma could do…and then she began to eye Almanzo. Even so, The First Four Years: here I come.
(This is part of a more extensive project; this past summer, I also finally finished the last volume of the Anne books, which I had avoided for many years. Another summer, I finished the Sydney Taylor All-of-a-Kind-Family series. And then there was the Ramona series (the later volumes were published after I was reading Ramona regularly). And Little Women (again, gals got married and their lives became less interesting for me). And The Borrowers too.)
The only series that I actually finished reading when I was a girl was – oh, never mind, I didn’t ever finish one. (When I was in high school, I finally got around to finishing one, I think.)
But I get distracted. Something new comes out, and then I am compelled to read it instead.
Which is what happened with Michel Chikawanine’s Child Soldier (written with Jessica Dee Humphreys and illustrated by Claudia Dávila).
An ad for one of his speaking engagements got my attention, then I was slipping Child Soldier into my bookbag.
And, there again, talk of mosquitoes. Though the bloodshed in this story is at the hands of human beings. (Both the illustrations and the text in his graphic memoir are worth reading.)
Instead, there is talk of a cloud of them (even though the bulk of the story is preoccupied with a cloud of butterflies).
“The primeval forest out there – the endless sameness of the greenery – the clouds of midges and mosquitoes – the struggling mass of creepers and undergrowth – often seemed to me the epitome of the amorphous.”
This was the first fiction published by her after the inimitable Possession, which I loved to pieces (literally – I no longer have my much-abused copy).
It was also an early instance of Not-the-Book-I-Loved phenomenon, in which I expected an author’s subsequent publication to be both (a) new and fascinating and different and (b) exactly like the book they wrote before, the one that I had loved.
Although mosquitoes are not at the heart of this story, there are many flurries and bursts of things, some winged and others shoed.
William has just returned from the Amazon, in which he was shipwrecked for a time, most of his collected specimens lost. He managed to salvage only a couple of pieces, but their value managed to secure a future for him all the same (though perhaps not the future he would have imagined).
There is a lot of talk about ants (and bees, to a lesser extent) and they scurry through the story like the maids scurry up and down the backstairs of wealthy homes in the 19th century. (It does not take long to recognize the queen!)
In some instances, the mosquitoes in my reading have flown off almost immediately after I spotted them on the page.
But in Griffin Ondaatje’smiddle-grade novel The Mosquito Brothers (illustrated by Erica Salcedo), they take centre stage. Er, hover above it, anyway.
Just as A.S. Byatt takes the world of insects and positions readers so that they wonder if they are viewing an ant colony or a pseudo-mediaeval manor house, Griffin Ondaatje tells Dinnn’s story – the story of a young mosquito – in the context of his everyday life, with his family and attending school.
One could read this as a nice middle-grade story about a young wanna-be-hero, who doesn’t have the same attributes as the other youngsters but learns to accept himself for who he is and sees that he really does have something unique to offer.
But I read it as someone who needed more information about mosquitoes, having had so many chance encounters with them lately (on the page).
Dinnn was named with 3 ‘n’s because his mother had 400 children to name, so it was necessary (nnnecessary) to double up eventually. This is a problem that I had never considered. (It’s one of the reasons that the interview with the author and Shelagh Rogers, on a recent episode of CBC’s “The Next Chapter”, caught my attention!)
So Dinnn’s mother has my sympathies. All the more so because she ran away to a parking lot with Dinnn’s father and only later discovered that he was a floater.
That’s right: her husband spends the bulk of his time bumping around the drive-in movie theatre screen. Then again, maybe he is struggling with the fact that his sweetheart had another family before, in an abandoned tire, with some other mister-mosquito some years back.
When Dinnn’s father goes to parent-teacher night, he falls asleep, because he’s up so late, with the movies playing every night at the Lakeside theatre. Or maybe the air is just too stuffy in the school, which is an old air-conditioning unit.
Ironically, The Mosquito Brothers was intended as my final book on the subject. But Dinnn learns some truly fascinating facts about his kind, when he attends school. Griffin Ondaatje’s book might not be the last on the subject in my reading after all.
Bundle up, Dinnn: it’s nearly December, and you’re going to need a warmer coat!