The Snake Scientist

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by Sy Montgomery. Illustrated by Nic Bishop. Nonfiction. 48 pages. Grades 4-8.
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Review

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This was the first of the amazing "Scientists in the Field" series of nonfiction books. In this volume writer Sy Montgomery and photographer Nic Bishop follow herpetologist Bob Mason to Manitoba, Canada to study the red-sided garter snake. We watch, step by step, as he conducts his experiments. The photographs are beautiful and the writing that accompanies them gives us background on snakes in general as well as the specific information of this species' mating, migration, and hibernation habits.

The opening page of text beneath a photo of the den of snakes they are studying is an unforgettable image and a great example for students of vibrant nonfiction writing:

"You hear them before you see them. On a quiet day, as you approach one of the dens at the Narcisse Wildlife Management Area in Manitoba, Canada, you can hear a rustling like wind in dry leaves.

It's the sound of thousands of slithering snakes.

When you look over the fence into the shallow limestone pit, at first it seems as if the ground is moving. But it's not the ground--it's 18,000 red-sided garter snakes!"

Now that's a great way to grab a reader's attention.

This book contains a bibliography, an index, and other helpful back matter.

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Related Books

  • cover art Rattlesnake Dance: True Tales, Mysteries, and Rattlesnake Ceremonies by Jennifer Owings Dewey. (2000, Boyds Mills Press. ISBN 9781563978777. Order Info.) Nonfiction. 48 pages. Gr 3-7.
    Here's an interesting way to convey information. Three anecdotes from the author's childhood revolve around rattlesnakes. In the first, she is bitten and nearly dies. In the second, she observes a Hopi snake ceremony and in the third she observes two rattlesnakes in combat. Around these tales, insets give extensive information about the species.

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    Verdi by Janell Cannon. (1997, Harcourt. ISBN 9780152010287. Order Info.) Picture Book. 56 pages. Gr PreK-3.
    Verdi is a proud yellow snake who relishes his life and his bright yellow skin. He dreads becoming lazy boring and green like the older snakes. When he spots a patch of green on his yellow skin, he nearly kills himself to get rid of it. He soon learns the valuable lesson that age is more than skin deep and that he can become a fun-loving elder snake.

  • cover art The Moon and I by Betsy Byars. (1996, HarperCollins. ISBN 9780688137045. Order Info.) Nonfiction. 112 pages. Gr 4-9.
    With a light and humorous touch, Ms. Byars tells of the way she writes her books. Throughout the account, she also tells of her relationship with a snake, Moon, which she found near her cabin. Her need to learn more about snakes in general and Moon in particular became an obsession that, for a brief time, dominated her existence. That obsession, the reasons for it, and the ways in which she conducted her research are so interesting and helpful that you'll want to read the brief book aloud at the outset of a research project. Read More.

  • cover art The Frog Scientist by Pamela S. Turner. Illustrated by Andy Comins. (2009, Houghton. ISBN 9780618717163. Order Info.) Nonfiction. 58 pages. Gr 4-9.
    Amphibians around the world are experiencing a dramatic decline in numbers. This book details African-American biologist Tyrone Hayes' experiments on the effect of pesticides on frogs. Hayes' passion and strong work ethic are contagious and a worthy model for readers wondering what might be possible for them. This is another great entry in the "Scientists in the Field" series. Read More.

  • Snakes by Seymour Simon. (2007, Collins. ISBN 9780061140952. Order Info.) Picture Book. 32 pages. Gr 2-9.
    Leave it to Simon to make the subject of snakes fascinating to every comer -- even if snakes weren't among your favorite creatures. With his eye on both the curious child and the fascinating species, Simon knows exactly which photographs will grab the eye and offer the most information and which sentences will do the same.

  • cover art Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea by Sy Montgomery. Illustrated by Nic Bishop. (2006, Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 9780618496419. Order Info.) Nonfiction Photo Essay. 80 pages. Gr 3-9.
    When the rare tree kangaroo is perched high in a tree it looks a little like a monkey and a little like a bear but it is actually a kind of kangaroo. This engrossing book follows scientist Lisa Dabek's adventures in Papau New Guinea tracking down the mysterious creature. Remarkable photographs and engaging writing. This is another brilliant book by the Montgomery/Bishop team. Read More.
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