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4.7 out of 5 stars
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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 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?
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on October 10, 2004
Even squeemish spider-haters couldn't help but love this book, it's so readable and fun! Arachnologist Sam Marshall leads the author and photographer on a quest that will inspire even the most reluctant young scientist. Journeying through the jungles of French Guiana, we enounter the world's largest spider, the Goliath Birdeater Tarantula. Nic Bishop's photos of the spiders are unexpectedly beautiful (how many eyes does that thing have?); he even managed to capture images of a spider shedding it's skin on a silk mat it wove especially for the occasion. The book has a lot of human interest as well, as readers learn that Marshall was an apathetic student himself, until the joy of discovery through research snared him. (Marshall is considered to be the world's foremost authority on tarantulas, and now is director of a the J.H. Barrow Field Station at Hiram University, where he is also an assistant professor.) One of the neat things about this book, beyond telling us everything about tarantuals, is that it gives us a glimpse what scientific inquiry means in the field and lab. There are photos of young lab students working with their research projects; a grade 5-8 reader would relate and be inspired by this portrayal. This book would be an excellent addition to any middle school library or a great gift for an aspiring biologist or tarantula owner.
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on June 12, 2004
Kids in grades 4-6 and more will relish Nic Bishop's startling close-up photos and scientist Sy Montgomery's vivid descriptions of scientific investigations in his Tarantula Scientist. Almost 80 pages pack in the photos and plenty of facts about the giant spiders, and will delight kids of all grade levels with accounts of investigative qualities. More than a picturebook but not quite a pre-teen read, this will reach a larger audience than most simple spider coverages.
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on December 18, 2013
My daughter' 4th grade class uses this book for the new common core reading program. She left it in school on the night of a homework assignment and freaked out. I decided to check for the e book version and there it was! Now she can read on the go , without any added weight to the book bag, and it is hers to keep. Very affordable as we'll.
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on August 6, 2013
My 5 year old and 7 year old and I read this book as we studied tarantulas. There was a great bit of information and the story telling method about the tarantula scientist kept them engaged. I am terrified of tarantulas, at least in my face, so I had my 5 year old son turn the pages! But the imagery was great, many details!
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on January 12, 2013
This book did what is described. Nicely written and very appealing to younger kids. The pictures are integrated nicely. Good purchase for school work of a 10year old.
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on April 1, 2013
This book is a book full of lovely pictures, and with a beautiful lay out. It is worth buying for the great close ups pictures. But mostly I think this book is made for kids who will like to learn of the Tarantula-world. If you are an adult who seriously wants to keep Tarantulas, buy some of the other books, like The Tarantula keepers guide, and Animal Planet's, Tarantulas. And to have some fun, buy "The Lagacy of Annie Rose" by Carolyn E. Swagerle....
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on May 28, 2012
If you love spiders than this is the book for you. This book follows an Arachnologist as he travels through the rainforests explore different locations in which tarantulas live. You gain a lot of important facts and information about the tarantulas. They give various backgrounds for the spiders, the breeding cycles, and other intriguing information about the lives of tarantulas. The pictures are very realistic so this book isn't for someone who is squeamish. The pictures are very intriguing to look at, especially if you love spiders and other creepy crawlies! The pictures are up close views of spiders so you can see the differences in the many different types of tarantulas. This book also tells the reader about the labs in which the scientists record real life daily logs of each of the 500 tarantula habitats.
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on June 5, 2015
My son wanted to get this book for his friend, who is a tarantula fan. Both boys were very enthusiastic and I am now considering buying a second copy to keep at our house.
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on August 2, 2015
Lively color pictures, good descriptions. Made me want to go on an expedition to hunt for spiders. Gonna read many of Ay's books.
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