Lasky, Kathryn. Silk and Venom: Searching for a Dangerous Spider.
Nominated for the 2011 Cybils by Jone MacCulloch.
Scientist Greta Binford studies spiders, and is especially interested in the highly poisonous Loxosceles, or Brown Recluse spider. She travels all over to find a sizeable population of them to study, searching through abandoned houses, in trees and bushes, and eventually finds some in the Dominican Republic. This book follows her investigation, and provides a lot of facts about spiders and the study of spiders along the way, illustrating this information with fantastic close-up photographs.
Strengths: Spiders are a topic that my nonfiction lovers frequently will pick up, but many of my books are so long that they look at the pictures more than read the text. This presents the information within the context of the story of Binford's search, which makes it much more interesting. Definitely will add this, which will be a good companion to the Scientists in the Field series.
Weaknesses: Again, the horizontal rather than vertical format makes it seem like a book for younger students, and there is a slightly strange "golly gee!", simplistic feel to the writing, which surprised me greatly, since Lasky writes so much for middle grades.
Nominated for the 2011 Cybils by Betsy Bird.
Sure enough, this book starts with prehistoric hunter-gatherers and over 182 pages works its way to the present day. It goes at breakneck speed, covering the highlights of all of history, in the same way that I used to give one lecture a year on all of Roman history-- fifty minutes of holding on to your hat! While this book is slightly Euro/Amerocentric, it does cover the history of other parts of the world, and that is very helpful in putting into context what happened in history. When I took history in school, World History and US History were two separate subjects, and I've always struggled with creating a world history timeline in my head. This was very helpful in that respect. In fact, I only have two objections to this book; the illustrations immediately took me back to the Scott Foresman Wide Horizons and Open Roads basal readers that we had in elementary school, and I am not sure how many students will want to pick this book up, in part because of the cover illustration. (The illustrator is Polish, and in the 1960s, when the basal readers were produced, there was an influx of illustrators from Poland. Any connection? )
Must admit that we are on spring break this week and I have been a complete and total sloth. I read four books over the weekend, two of which were NOT middle grade. Before I got so sucked into blogging, I generally used breaks to read vast quantities of Nora Roberts' books. I try to be a little better now! The main problem this weekend was that none of the children had shoes, and I spent much more time cleaning things than I wanted to.
People ask how I have time to read so much. The answer is simple-- I let the housework slide as much as humanly possible. And I don't cook much. And the four teenagers know I am always here if they need me but normally spend most of their time sleeping! And, as I tell my students, I don't have time to watch t.v.!