Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Tarantula Scientist

Montgomery, Sy. 2004. THE TARANTULA SCIENTIST. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0618147993 [Suggested Grade Levels 2-6]

“Sam Marshall is lying on his belly in the rainforest, his freckled face just inches from a fist-sized hole in the dirt. He turns on his headlamp. He gently pokes a twig into the tunnel and wiggles it. “Come out! “ he says into the hole. “I want to meet you!” Marshall coaxes spider after spider out of their burrows and introduces the reader to some of the biggest and hairiest ones – tarantulas. Sy Montgomery and photographer Nic Bishop follow arachnologist Sam Marshall from his laboratory in Ohio to the steamy rainforest of French Guiana in South America on the hunt for spiders to study, in The Tarantula Scientist.

Although the text is lengthy and set in small print, it is written in an easy-to-read, conversational tone, and Montgomery uses terms that will resonate with children, “the Goliath bird eater tarantula, with outstretched legs, could cover your whole face.” She describes the spider’s eating habits, “First the spider bites and paralyzes the prey with venom. Then it pumps fluid from its stomach into the victim. In a few moments, the inside of the prey has turned to liquid. Yum! The spider slurps out the juice and then tosses the skin away like an empty juice box.” Bishop’s close-up photographs of hairy legs and fangs seem ready to leap off the page. Montgomery includes “Spider Stats” that detail surprising spider statistics, “Spider Speak” that gives term definitions so the reader, as Montgomery puts it, “doesn’t need a decoder ring.” She includes spider web sites, a bibliography, notes on visiting French Guiana where the research was done, and on buying a tarantula as a pet. This is an excellent choice to expose readers not only to the eight-legged creatures themselves, but also to the scientists who study them.

Younger children could use spider hand puppets to act out different spider behaviors. Older children could observe a spider or tarantula in a terrarium, either in the classroom, or at a nature center, and write about different characteristics.

Other books about tarantulas:
LaBonte, Gail. THE TARANTULA. ISBN 0875184529
McGinty, Alice B. TARANTULA. ISBN 0823955664

By Tammy Korns

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