Silk & Venom: Searching for a Dangerous Spider by Kathryn Lasky and her husband, photographer Christopher G. Knight is a new biography of arachnologist, Greta Binford. For the spider squeamish and spider enthusiast both: Yes, this book is filled with large, colorful photographs of spiders. In the back is a “Glossary of Spiders” that shows sixteen different kinds of spiders. This isn’t a general book about spiders, however, the story follows scientist Binford on her journey to the Caribbean to find a certain species of brown recluse spider. She is looking into how spiders of the genus Loxosceles, the brown spiders, may have migrated and evolved.
You may recognize Kathryn Lasky as the author of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series. She has also written a number of nonfiction titles. On the book jacket, she admits that she has always been afraid of spiders, but when she heard an interview with Greta Binford on the radio, she was so impressed with the scientist’s passion for spiders, she immediately wanted to know more. Her husband, photographer and documentary filmmaker Christopher G. Knight, revealed that he had to learn new techniques to photograph creatures as small as spiders, but his work paid off.
Greta Binford is a professor of biology at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. After a general introduction to spiders in the first chapter, the book delves into Binford’s childhood interest in nature. The text unfolds in such a way that children will be able to relate to getting dirty and picking up earthworms, as well as her brother tricking her into eating cat food. Perhaps unexpectedly, Lasky also mentions Binford’s childhood struggles with her religious beliefs. She mentions her belief in God, but how she grappled to come to grips with the stories of the Bible.
The book then turns to Binford’s current research into the venom of the brown spiders. Venom is the poisonous fluid that spiders inject with their fangs to help subdue and digest their prey. In the case of the brown recluse and its relatives, the venom can cause open sores that are slow to heal in humans, and sometimes more severe reactions. One group of species in South America has quite different venom and Binford is interested in how that might have come about.
Silk & Venom is sure to interest budding middle grade scientists. It might also entice a spider-phobe or two to become interested in spiders, just like it did for Kathryn Lasky.
For related activities see:
Baby spiders and spider books for the younger set
Reading level: Ages 4-8 (Amazon, this is probably better for 9-12)
Hardcover: 64 pages
Publisher: Candlewick (February 22, 2011)
This books was provided for review purposes.
Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. We invite you to join us. For more information and a schedule, stop by the new Nonfiction Monday blog to see who is hosting each week. This week’s post is at The Miss Rumphius Effect.