Sunday, October 21, 2012

danyelle recommends Nic Bishop Snakes

At our house we divide responsibilities:  I help my children with any and all math homework, and my husband helps with the assignments that involve art.  Always.  So when my first-grader brought home a school project that involved clay, I happily got out of the way and let them work on it together.  I suppose it was a very serious project because they worked mostly in silence, but at one point my son broke the silence by saying, "I like to read nonfiction."

Quickly picking up this unexpected conversation, his dad replied, "Oh, I do, too.  I like to read books about history."

My son said, "I don't read much history.  I like to read books about animals."  And then after another interval of silence he added, "I get most of my information from books."

And that is probably why my sons and I were so excited when Nic Bishop Snakes came out this year.  Nic Bishop combines fascinating information about animals and stunning photography to make books that we love to read again and again.

Not attempting an exhaustive overview, Bishop instead gives readers a glimpse into the world of snakes, discussing physical attributes (the green anaconda "may weigh more than 400 pounds"), feeding habits ("eight big meals a year are enough for many snakes"), and defenses ("a viper can strike  . . .as fast as you can blink").  He highlights specific snakes, including the handsome fellow on the cover -- the parrot snake.

But the thing that makes this book stand out is the spectacular, full-page photography.  Whether close-up or actual size, each photograph shows not only a different snake, but subtly directs the reader's attention to a particular snake characteristic.  The green tree python shows off gorgeous green coils.  The venomous feathered bush viper's scales are prominent in a photo that is 3 times actual size. The Asian sand viper and the Gaboon viper demonstrate camouflage dramatically.  The emerald tree boa sticks out his tongue, and the eyelash viper displays some really scary fangs.  Bishop gives readers a you-are-there experience with pictures that feel impossibly real.  (Actually, since I wouldn't linger to examine any snake I came across in the wild, I got a better-than-you-are-there experience.)  And each photo is one you'll want to linger over, except perhaps the one of the garter snakes -- that'll give you nightmares.

Now, a quick word about the book's design. The colored text pages complement the photographs, particularly the brilliant yellow that picks up the pattern on the Mandarin rat snake.  The smaller type used to spotlight the specific snakes helps pacing.  But the larger, bold type used to highlight a sentence on each page of text is disturbingly random.  While some of the sentences seem like main ideas for the page, others do not.  Why would, "That is why many snakes ambush their victims" be emphasized?  Also, certain paragraphs felt out of place and would have made more sense on a previous page.

But these are small quibbles that shouldn't keep you from picking up the book.  Who else but Nic Bishop could make a feathered bush viper look adorable?  In the end notes, Bishop said he wanted to "show how beautiful snakes are" and he did it!

Nic Bishop Snakes
by Nic Bishop
published by Scholastic
October 2012

Recommended for ages 5 and up

1 comment:

  1. The pictures are terrific in this book - as to be expected from Nic Bishop. It is so interesting to see a snake "play dead" or to see an entire egg lodged in a snake's throat.

    I always find his endnotes really interesting, too. Reading about how he took these snakes in and cared for them, and the misadventures leading up to the final pictures, really brings the book alive. It makes you appreciate his dedication to producing his perfect shot!