Friday, October 26, 2007


Bibliographic Data:
Title: The Tarantula Scientist
Author: Sy Montgomery
Illustrator: Nic Bishop
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date:
ISBN: 0-618-41799-3

Plot Summary:
Sam Marshall, an arachnologist, leads the reader through the jungles of French Guiana in search of tarantulas. This colorful and humorous informational book laces vignettes of Sam's adventures with facts, figures, illustrations, and explanations regarding all types of spiders but focusing on tarantulas in particular. Montgomery is able to offer what could be dry and boring information in a palatable and entertaining way by interweaving the anecdotes of Marshall with basic fact. The captions for the beautiful illustrations offer further explanation and add to the air of authority the book carries.

Critical Analysis:
As I have said before, I'm not a fan of nonfiction, but I was truly amazed and engaged reading this text. My eight year old son and I read the book from cover to cover and spent quite a bit of time commenting on the various illustrations, the commentary, and laughing at some of Marshall's misadventures (such as walking into a wasp's nest while searching for tarantula holes.)

Not only does the book offer information on spiders, but it also includes information on Marshall himself. In one vignette, Marshall reveals his struggles in college and how research on desert and jungle tarantulas turned his views regarding education and science, in particular, around. "Once I understood that anybody can do the process... that was the thing that totally changed my life!" (Montgomery, 2006, p. 26)

This book also explains the scientific process in detail to the reader but in an interesting way. For example, in one section, Marshall explains how he observed and experimented with a hypothesis regarding why a Goliath birdeater tarantula would molt onto a silk mat. What Marshall hypothesized was that fly larva were parasites that would be trapped by the silk mat. His subsequent testing proved his hypothesis and readers can follow along with this experience in an interesting anecdote rather than reading a research study.

The photographs are simply amazing. The detail as well as the color make this book pop up and engage the reader. While not all of the photos are to scale, these pictures offer detail to a reader that might only appear with use of a magnifying glass or microscope. I was completely intrigued to flip through the book to glance at the illustrations and I found that animals that can appear frightening are really fascinating.

Approximately eighty pages, this book is chockful of fun, facts, and arachnids. I would recommend it highly and I'll probably read it again to catch information I missed the first time!

Editorial Reviews:
School Library Journal
Grade 5-10-Superb color photos abound in this spectacular series addition. Readers follow the career of Sam Marshall, tarantula scientist extraordinaire, from his "Spider Lab" at Hiram College in Ohio to the rain forests of French Guiana as he hunts for, finds, and studies the creatures he loves so well. The conversational text contains as much spider lore as scientific investigation and provides a cheerful look at a dedicated scientist. (The fact that he did not do well in school may encourage those late bloomers who have not yet found their passion in life or believe it to be far beyond their academic grasp.) Informative, yes, but even more important, this is a vivid look at an enthusiastic scientist energetically and happily at work, both in the field and in the lab, questioning, examining, testing, and making connections. A treat, even for arachnophobes.
Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Gr. 4-7. Montgomery and Bishop, who worked together on Snake Scientist (1999), team up once again to deliver another fascinating slice of the natural world. This time they venture to the French Guiana rain forest, where they follow arachnologist Sam Marshall on his quest for his favorite quarry: tarantulas. Enthusiasm for the subject and respect for both Marshall and his eight-legged subjects come through on every page of the clear, informative, and even occasionally humorous text. Bishop's full-color photos, which concentrate on detail, not scale, are amazing--Marshall coaxing an elusive tarantula into the open or bringing readers literally face-to-face with a hairy spider. The section on students' research seems tacked on, but it adds an interesting sidelight to the book, which is longer and richer in both text and illustrations than others in the Scientists in the Field series. Readers will come away armed with facts about spiders in general and tarantulas in particular, but even more important, they'll have a clear understanding of how the answers derived from research become the roots of new, intriguing questions.
Stephanie Zvirin
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Invite an entomologist or arachnologist to the classroom to share live bugs and spiders with students.

Ask students to find the steps of the scientific process in a read aloud of one of the experiments described in the book.

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