Bouncing Baby Spiders

Babies are always cute, but some people might have trouble with using the words cute and spider in the same sneakyspinning-baby-spiderssentence. Those readers may change their minds after picking up Sneaky, Spinning Baby Spiders by Sandra Markle. In this book Markle has combined spectacular photographs of baby and adult spiders with carefully crafted text. For example, the photograph on page five of a jumping spider flying through the air as it pounces is amazing.

The accompanying text is exactly the right balance of factual and lively to make it informative and fun to read. It must have been difficult not to slip into anthropomorphism when the subject is babies, but the author kept just the right tone. Markle writes “mother spider,” but not “mom.” She also uses feminine pronouns instead of the neutral “it.” Those touches draw the young reader in.

Although the author has done a great job with the text, I did find one inaccuracy. Whenever an author is not an expert on a topic and has to rely on others for photographs, a chance for errors creeps in. In this case, the spider identified on page 24 as a “slender sac spider,” genus Chiracanthium, is actually a giant crab spider, genus Olios. One the plus side, the photographs also represent spiders from throughout the world, instead of from only one area or continent as so often is the case.

At the end of the book, the map of where the spiders are found is a nice touch. I also like Markle’s paragraph about how she was inspired to write this book by finding a spider’s web intact after a severe storm. It is a warm, personal note that sets the tone for the entire book.

All in all, Sneaky, Spinning Baby Spider is a wonderful addition to any library.

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers (October 28, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0802796974
ISBN-13: 978-0802796974

For a related activity, visit Spider Webs at Growing With Science blog. Edit: Check More About Baby Spiders for a list of children’s picture books about spiders.


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Simply Science.

Another Way to Find Book Reviews

Have you ever been looking for book reviews on a certain book, and not felt you have gotten all you could have from the search? I know you probably have already discovered this, but when searching for book reviews of Dinotrux, I accidentally found a new way to search for book reviews. Instead of searching for “Dinotrux book review” in the web, try “Dinotrux” in images.

Results of a standard web search:


(Note: I did this search yesterday and I don’t know how my post ended up on the first page. It’s a fluke, I’m sure.)

Here’s what an image search looks like:


Seems like a lot more and better options, although maybe that’s because I’m a visual person.

In any case, I’m going to try to include images of the cover from now on so people can find my reviews. Up to know I have just added Amazon links, which has been fast and easy and gives readers a quick way to find out more, but wouldn’t show up in an image search.

I am very curious what you think. Did you already know about searching by image? What do you think of searching by image, does it lead to more finds? How do you include book cover images in your reviews and why?

Reading and Writer’s Block

Recently our local Arizona indie bookstore, Changing Hands, held a stellar event for those interested in children’s books. Changing Hands does a wonderful job attracting dynamic and popular kidlit authors and illustrators, as well as others industry insiders, to give an annual panel discussion (in the past they have featured local author Stephenie Meyer).

The discussion this time was lively and entertaining, an informative exchange between the experts and the audience. At one point an audience member brought up the topic of writer’s block. Two of the participants stated something that surprised me. They admitted that reading their way out of writer’s block did not work for them.

One author said that he had read a lot as a kid and before he became a writer. Now that he writes, however, he doesn’t want to read anything. First of all, when he has his editor mind working, he finds himself being critical of others. Also, he admits that he is afraid he will pick up other writer’s voices, something that certainly does happen.

Another panel member chimed in that he doesn’t read either. He is concerned he will read something really fantastic (he mentioned Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games), and it would be too discouraging. He thought it would make him want to quit because he would compare himself to that standard and not be able to reach it.

These remarks make a lot of sense. I had always thought that writer’s block occurred when “your well is empty” and you need to read to refurbish yourself. Maybe reading doesn’t make you a better writer after all, at least not when you are actively writing.

Another panel member suggested that blocks are often the result of problems you don’t know the solution to yet, and that walking away or free writing might help the process along. Going to a movie or taking a walk might give that part of your brain that is chugging away on the problem a chance to finish processing.

I have to admit that when I have “my editor’s hat on,” I find it extremely difficult to be creative. Recently I had a copy editing job that continued on for several weeks. Every time I set down the job and tried to do my own writing I would stumble around looking for the perfect words for each sentence I wrote. Now the job is over, the words flow.

What do you do when you are struggling with writing? What do you think of the idea that reading might not be helpful?

Dinotrux Makes Prehistoric Impact in Preschooler World

Dinotrux is a new picture book by Tucson author/illustrator Chris Gall that has made a truck-sized impact on the children’s lit world.

You may have heard the buzz or seen the blog posts: “What a great idea!” “Why didn’t I think of that?” “He’s got a deal with DreamWorks already!” “A book preschool boys will love.”

To get an idea of what the clamor is all about, take a look at the book trailer.

The trailer is funny, clever and well, animated. When I picked up the book I wanted Cementosaurus make facial expressions. (Note to self: don’t make your book trailer so fantastic people want your illustrations to move.) As you can see, the book is wonderful. The names of each dinotrux is based on real dinosaur names like “Dumplodocus,” the dump truck version of Diplodocus. Who wouldn’t find Dozeratops, the Craneosaurus, the Semisaur appealing?. The story isn’t complex; this is a field guide to dinosaur/trucks.

Chris Gall admits he changed his illustration style for this book. The illustrations are darker hues than his previous books with heavy lines giving it a more retro look, probably to reflect the dim past. Gall says he wanted to represent how fiery and dangerous it was in the time of Dinotrux (the shading reminds me of the illustrations in Chris Van Allsburg’s Two Bad Ants). Gall says he creates his illustrations both by hand and on the computer and often goes back and forth between the two.

Dinotrux is incredibly imaginative and humorous. It will definitely be a smash with preschoolers interested in trucks and/or dinosaurs.

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers (June 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0316027774
ISBN-13: 978-0316027779
Product Dimensions: 11.9 x 9.2 x 0.6 inches