In addition to re-reading some old Halloween favorites, my son and I are slowly working our way through The Snake Scientist, by Sy Montgomery. The 48-page title from 1999 is part of Houghton Mifflin's "Scientists in the Field" series, which recently issued Loree Griffin Burns' Tracking Trash. The snake scientist, one Bob Mason from Oregon State, studies the red-sided garter snakes who hibernate by the thousands in pits in Manitoba. In her book A Gathering of Garter Snakes, the former National Geographic photographer Bianca Lavies looked at the same phenomenon. Several years ago I read the Lavies book aloud repeatedly at Junior's request. He picks up our local garter snakes with ease. If they're spending the winter massed in our yard somewhere, I have no doubt that he will find them.
Montgomery's Snake Scientist is a photo-rich picture book for older readers, 10 to 14, and contains almost more text than my 8 year old's attention can handle, even in a read-aloud situation. But we keep going because the subject is fascinating. And I've pretty much agreed to a field trip to Manitoba some spring so that we, too, can be scientists in the field and watch the snakes come out of hibernation.
What snake-loving kid can resist the following intro?
You hear them before you see them. One 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!
Other books in this series which caught my attention include The Tarantula Scientist, The Bug Scientists, and Swimming with Hammerhead Sharks. I'm planning ahead: no field trip for that last one.
Links: Professor Mason; Sy Montgomery interview at Paper Tigers; article on Snake Scientist photographer Nic Bishop at The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books; Manitoba Conservation/Snakes of Narcisse Wildlife Management Area