Wordless Books

Follow the Firefly

Bernardo Carvalho

This book is unusual… and a lot of fun. Hold it as you would most books and the first story, Follow The Firefly, reads from front to back. Get to the end and you can reverse direction and head back through the pages to read the second tale, Run, Rabbit, Run!.

Although each story is separate, the two are closely linked. As illustrator Carvalho – one of the founders of the award-winning publishing house Planeta Tangerina – explains on blog.picturebookmakers.com, both tales take place in the same setting. ‘Things are happening at exactly the same time,’ he says, ‘two different stories that share the same stage, or one story that gives rise to another, or stories that latch onto one another in a never-ending loop. When one ends, the next one starts – and it starts because the other one has ended.’

Follow the Firefly spread

The first story opens with the sub-title: ‘Excuse me, have you seen a flashing light?’ This alerts us to the fact that Firefly – who looks remarkable like a grey light bulb – is looking for soulmate who shares his particular characteristic of bioluminescence. When the jungle animals organise a barbecue party he feels especially lonely, and decides to leave the jungle. He heads to the city and eventually finds the, somewhat surprising, object of his dreams. But in doing so he causes a major traffic pile-up.

Due to the pile-up, the rabbit of the second story is able to escape from his cage on a greedy hunter’s truck. The hunter’s dog, though, spots the escapee and immediately gives chase through the city and back into the jungle. By the time the two arrive at the barbecue being enjoyed by the animals they have made friends. Rabbit and Dog are delighted to join in the party, but Firefly is feeling left out and lonely. So the loop begins again.

Follow the Firefly spread

Of the two stories, and despite the fact one runs in a counter direction to our normal Western instincts, Run, Rabbit, Run! is clearer to follow than Follow The Firefly. That’s partly because, rather than one protagonist, the firefly, there are two characters in this tale, the dog and the rabbit. In addition these animals are more recognisable than the insect, and are drawn more prominently, whereas you have to look quite carefully to spot the firefly in some pictures.

Carvalho’s loose watercolour illustrations are busy and quite surreal, more impressionist than realistic. People, animals and insects may be drawn at different scales, like the ladybird who is half the size of the dog, or they may appear as mere outlines on the page, perhaps in unexpected colours, such as blue or green. This non-naturalistic technique can make it difficult to work out exactly what is being represented at times, but it also helps to ‘disguise’ the alternative tale. As Carvalho has said: ‘With plainer colours and fewer details, it would have been harder to distance ourselves from the other story.

Follow the Firefly spread

There are many different birds and animals for children to spot throughout the book, and there are several witty visual details for the adults too, such as the hunter’s teeth, which look remarkably like the bars on the cages he is transporting. At one point Dog becomes so confused his head is shown spinning in two directions. But occasionally there are big gaps to fill between pictures, such as when Rabbit is shown on a bus in one picture and swimming across a river in the next, with no bus in sight, which can make the reading ‘leaps’ quite a challenge.

Overall, though, Follow The Firefly / Run, Rabbit, Run! is a clever entertaining idea that offers double value as a reading experience. It makes you reassess what a book can do.