Jess McGeachin, Fly, Penguin Random House Australia, August 2019, 32 pp., RRP. $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781760892562
Fly is a beautifully illustrated picture book about Lucy who loves to fix things. When Lucy finds an injured bird that can’t fly, she is determined that she can fix the bird too.
In an effort to help the bird fly again, Lucy sets about designing and building a plane. At this point in the story, realism blends to fantasy as Lucy builds an actual plane, illustrated as an open cock-pit, propeller driven, early aviation plane, held together with sticky tape. She takes the injured bird for a ride in her plane so that it can experience flight again. But disaster strikes as the plane begins to fall apart mid-air. Lucy and the bird are rescued by a flock of birds of different species, as vividly illustrated on two double spread pages of colourful birds against a blue sky background.
This is a touching story of a girl with a sense of caring and a longing to set right that which is lost and broken, but finally accepting her Dad’s wise counsel that “some things just can’t be fixed”. The story subtly hints at a greater loss, with both the opening line and closing line referring to Lucy and her Dad having only each other – “It was just the two of them after all.”
The illustrations are detailed and expansive colourful paintings which add the context of a rural, domestic backdrop, with lush green hills and open blue sky. Illustrations also depict Lucy and her Dad’s closeness and warm interactions, as well as her imagined plane flight.
On one level, this book is an amusing story of imagination, with added interesting references to pioneering aviation and bird watching, accompanied by beautiful illustrations that add a pleasurable element to the book. But there’s another, subtle layer about coming to terms with loss and grief.
Being a picture book with some complex themes, it would be better appreciated by a slightly older picture book reading cohort, about 5-8 years old.
Reviewed by Barbara Swartz