Thursday, October 16, 2008


(Source: Montgomery, Sy. 1999. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Photo Source: Barnes and Noble., accessed October 16, 2008).

1. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Montgomery, Sy. The snake scientist. Ill. Nic Bishop. 1999. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN: 0395871697

2. ABOUT THIS BOOK: This book, as its name suggests, is about a snake scientist named Dr. Robert Mason. Dr. Mason’s research focuses on the red-sided garter snakes. Every year, Dr. Mason, his research team and snake loving volunteers travel to the Narcisse Wildlife Management Area in Manitoba, Canada because it is a place where, for three weeks of every year, shallow, limestone pits are filled with tens of thousands of these snakes at once. Because a large number of snakes can be captured and studied at one time, Dr. Mason is able to advance his research quickly. This book discusses the nature of these snakes as well as the research Dr. Mason has done and continues to do. The book describes his scientific experiments and the benefit of the experiments.

3. CRITICAL ANALYSIS: This book is a direct result of the author’s discussion with Dr. Mason. Dr. Mason’s voice is heard throughout the book. There could be no better and accurate source of information than the snake scientist himself! Facts about snakes are made clear and myths are dispelled in a unique writing style. Instead of just writing one fact after another, Mr. Montgomery weaves the facts into a narrative about a day in the life of a scientist at the snake dens. For example, he uses the words of a second grade student to inform the reader. He quotes her as saying “I used to hate snakes, but now I love them! . . . They’re soft and not slimy!” To further support these facts, Mr. Montgomery includes a photograph of the girl holding a snake. The entire book is written in this manner with photographs strategically placed to support the words written on the page.

Mr. Montgomery provides plenty of sources for his work and for future learning about the topic. At the back of the book, the reader will find information on locating the Narcisse Snake Dens as well as the best time of year to visit. There is also information about the non-profit organization, Earthwatch. Earthwatch is a group whose volunteers help Dr. Mason with his research. Mr. Montgomery provides bibliographic information for further readings about snakes. He also provides an “Acknowledgement” for all of the individuals who assisted him with the book.

The story of the snakes in the Narcisse dens and the research performed on them flows in a logical manner. The book is attractive and is interesting to young readers, especially boys who are usually fascinating by snakes. The disappointment in the book’s organization comes from the lack of a table of contents. The chapters include: “Thousands of Snakes”, “Reptile Superheroes”, “Discovering ‘Snake Juice’”, and “The Call of Chemistry”. Additional items at the end of the book include: “Unsolved Mysteries”, “To visit the Narcisse snake dens”, and “Further Reading”. All of these identifying titles are excellent but cannot be found without physically turning each page of the book. The lack of a table of contents makes browsing more difficult; therefore, it would be a major improvement to the book if a table of contents was included. The book includes an index which is helpful in locating specific information.

One rationale for the lack of a table of contents may have been the author’s belief that children will be more likely to browse the book for its pictures instead of its words. He may be correct. The pictures on every page are very fascinating. They begin on the title page and continue throughout the book. Each picture (and sometimes several) fit so well with every page that the reader can just look at the pictures and get an idea of the words on the page. Although the pictures have captions, some of the pictures don’t make sense on their own and cause the reader to be curious about what the picture actually represents. In that case, the reader is drawn to read the page to find out exactly what is being discussed in relation to a particular picture.

One can see that the author has taken care with even the smallest details of this book. The book, rectangular in shape but not too large, is reminiscent of a miniature coffee table book. Its pages are thick and glossy. They would be difficult for a child to tear. The type font is large and easy to read while the captions of the photographs are smaller and typeset in italics to set them apart from the rest of the text. The page numbers have a light green curlicue under them which draws the eyes’ attention to them. Bullet points are used in the test to set lists of items apart from other text. Overall, this is a very interesting, easy to read book.

4. BOOK REVIEW EXCERPT(S): (Source: Book Review Digest Plus, WilsonWeb database, accessed via TWU Library Online)

THE HORN BOOK, 75, no. 4, (July/Aug. 1999): 485-6: “. . . it is a solid introduction to the ethos of experimental science as seen by a genial scientist with a research topic whose kid appeal is hard to beat.”

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, 45, no. 5 (May 1999): “Large, full-color photos of the zoologist and young students at work, and lots of wriggly snakes, pull readers into the presentation."

BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN’S BOOKS, 52, no. 8 (Apr. 1999) 289: “Montgomery's zippy text gives an engaging portrait of the scientific work. . . . [the zoologist’s] general and unstudied enthusiasm for science in general will also galvanize many young readers.”

• This book will be terrific to use in science when a teacher is teaching the scientific method. The chapters “Discovering ‘Snake Juice’” and “The Call of Chemistry” explain in detail they way in which Dr. Mason does his experiments. This is a concrete example of the scientific method at work.
• A science teacher can use this book in the study of reptiles and the way in which cold blooded animals survive cold weather.
• If students are doing research projects on animals, or specifically reptiles, this book can be pulled as a source.

Other related items:

• Montgomery, Sy. The tarantula scientist. 2004. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
• Lavies, Bianca. A gathering of garter snakes. 1993. New York: Dutton Children’s Books.
• Hazen, Robert M. 2001. Lecture 2: The scientific method. In The joy of science. DVD. Chantilly, VA: Teaching Company.

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