Top positive review
24 people found this helpful
Are they strong? Listen, bub.
on February 15, 2005
I have no problems with spiders. When an arachnid lodges itself in the upper right hand corner of my shower, it's me (not my hubby) who forces it into an empty glass and releases it back into the wilderness (i.e. out the window). I don't think they're particularly cute, but I respect what they do. Similarly, I didn't think I had any problems with tarantulas either. I'd never held one or stared one in the eight eyes, but I wasn't about to freak out over reading Sy Montgomery's excellent addition to the "Scientists In the Field" series. It was with zero reluctance that I plucked "The Tarantula Scientist" from its shelf and proceeded to page through it. Just my bad luck that such paging began with a stomach churning view of young gooey transparent tail whip scorpions riding on their mother's back, really. To my infinite surprise I found portions of this book grotesque, other parts, disturbing, and every single page can't-physically-tear-my-eyes-away fascinating. For any kid vaguely considering transferring their love of the creepy crawlies into a full time career, this book is a must-have. Just keep a firm grip on your phobias while you peruse it.
Our hero is named Sam Marshall. He's an average college professor (go Hiram!) with a truly above-average obsession. Marshall loves tarantulas. He loves to travel to distant rainforests and observe them in the wild. He loves to tend to his five hundred live spiders in Hiram College's Spider Lab. But most of all, he loves to discover new and interesting things about the species. Tarantulas, as it happens, are relatively mysterious creatures. No one in the scientific community has ever taken the time to understand their growth rates, space needs, ways of creating homes, social obligations, etc. No one until now, that is. With Sam at the your side, the book takes the reader up close and personal with these magnificent lords of the jungle floor. You watch as Sam coaxes a Goliath birdeater tarantula out of its hole. You thrill to see (in graphic color photographs that could win awards for presentation alone) these tarantulas as they shed their furry spiky skins. You cower as Sam navigates a snake ridden cave floor to capture more and more tarantulas for his needs. From the comfort and calm of Ohio to the dangerous but beautiful forests of French Guiana the daring life of an arachnologist has never been so thrillingly portrayed.
This book won the coveted Sibert Honor as one of the best non-fiction books of the year. It's hardly a surprise though. First of all, the pairing of author Sy Montgomery with photographer Nic Bishop is nothing short of inspired. Sy's text makes scientist Sam Marshall come alive for child readers. Through him they learn how one becomes a world premiere tarantula specialist. The book intersperses factual information about the spiders with the actions Sam takes from place to place. Best of all, the book includes a fabulous selected bibliography, spider websites of note, info on French Guiana, and a portion discussing what to do if you're thinking of buying your own personal tarantula. None of this cold hard information keeps Montgomery from placing little moments of reflection in his text as well. A discussion of a hike through the rainforest notes that finding answers to science questions, "means long hikes through a wet, warm rainforest where even the sunlight glows green through the leaves". And the book really shows how scientific discoveries are made. Kids in school might be under the mistaken impression that all facts about the known world are... well... known. But by reading this book we watch and Sam notices something about a spider (it makes a noise, possibly with its legs), tests a theory (by shaving the spider's legs), and reaches a logical conclusion (the noise DOES come from the legs!). What other book does this so well, I dare ask?
And still there are the pictures. Oh the pictures. Bright beautiful full page color pictures that can't help but grab your attention. You see crazy insects, a bag FULL of empties tarantula skins (mesmerizing to say the least), webs, a tarantula flinging spikes at an opponent, and more. My sole regret was that the book goes on for some time about the beauty of a rare bird (whose name Amazon.com won't let me write here, doggone it), but never shows us so much as a glimpse.
All in all, spiders have never been so well documented and presented for the general child reader public. If you're tired of wearing socks all the time and wouldn't mind getting your socks knocked off, here is the place to start. It will scare little kids, entrance older kids, and mildly freak out parents. What more could any good science book do?