A wingless, friendless mosquito performs a musical in a new town.
Highway brings his one-act play to picture-book format: the text is made up of script, song lyrics (with a bit of musical description but no music), and a few stage directions. Accompanied only by her piano player, Mary Jane Mosquito relates her life story. Its primary theme is that she differs from other mosquitoes because she has no wings. The script and songs portray this as a social disability: winglessness, here, prevents friendships. (It also prevents flying, but that’s unimportant.) She solves her lack of friends by befriending the audience of this performance and teaching them words from “my language.” She calls it “the language of mosquitoes,” but it’s actually Cree; Highway is Cree himself. Todd’s linoleum-cut prints, digitally colored, show Mary Jane onstage and in past scenes (in these flashbacks, other characters appear; besides the wings, they look human, as does Mary Jane). This theatrical star’s dress-up and postures evoke Maurice Sendak’s Really Rosie, from his 1975 animated musical with Carole King. Indigenous-style masks, hung as decoration, double as comedy/tragedy masks. Highway’s enthusiastic song lyrics vary in structure and scansion, providing ample creative opportunity for readers who want to sing them. The conflation of disability and unpopularity—Mary Jane, if she has friends, can fly “in [her] heart”—is regrettable. As a play, this would be a piquant choice for a teenage troupe; as a picture book, it’s best used with early elementary children.
A unique, playful offering. (Picture book. 6-10)