Year of the Snake

February 21, 2013 § 4 Comments

Nic Bishop's SnakesLet me be clear: I am not a snake person. Just ask my husband about the time our former neighbor’s grandson misplaced his yellow and black striped rubber snake in our driveway. My hysteria, combined with the Internet, had half the street convinced that a rare and deadly species of snake (I believe we had landed on the Eastern King Snake) had invaded our DC suburb. My husband finds this an enlightening story about my disposition to overreact (I prefer to think of it as strong survival instincts).

All this is to say that if I am telling you that Nic Bishop’s Snakes (Ages 5-12) is not only A-MA-ZING but that I have been volunteering to read this book to my son, then you should take me very, very seriously. You should march straight out to your local bookstore and buy this book (actually, you should buy all the books in Bishop’s series, even those about tamer animals like butterflies and frogs).

For starters, this is some of the most eye-popping wildlife photography I’ve ever seen. JP and I are transfixed by these snakes, nearly all of them shot at eye-level: big, small, neon, metallic, scaly, wet, hissing, resting, attacking, and eating (in the equally fascinating afterward, Bishop tells kids how hard it is to photograph snakes and how he almost lost his hand in the process!). Most non-fiction animal series cram their pages with a plethora of snapshots alongside tiny text-filled boxes. In Bishop’s book, each page reveals a single full-bleed color photograph, giving kids ample time to take in the awe-inspiring detail, from the feathery skin of an African bush viper to the unhinged jaws of an emerald tree boa.

But it’s not just the pictures that makes this book a stand-out: its text reads more like a story than a litany of facts. Highly informative, yet infused with the author’s evident fascination, Bishop’s words lend even more excitement to his photographs. “If you could turn yourself into a snake, you would be about four times longer than you are now, and only a few inches thick. You would have to get around without legs…You would have the same organs as you do now but they would be squeezed tight inside your narrow body.”

Not surprisingly, several pages are devoted to how snakes stalk, catch, and devour their prey (the operative word here is “ambush”). Did you know that snakes can’t see well and don’t have ear holes? Instead, they sense their prey’s presence by feeling vibrations in their jaws and by smelling with their tongues. The Gaboon Viper from Africa has the longest fangs of any snake and yet it looks like a pile of leaves to its unsuspecting victim. JP and I are particularly obsessed with a close-up shot of desert sand, under which you can just make out the lying-in-wait body of the Asian sand viper (now that, boys and girls, is camouflage).

Is there anything about science that you can’t learn from studying snakes?! I’m so fired up right now that I might even get up the nerve to take my son to the reptile room at the National Zoo this weekend. Heck, maybe I’ll even buy him some rubber snakes (oh wait, his aunt already did that and his favorite place to stash them is under his sheets, so that I conveniently stumble upon them while making his bed).

As for my fellow phobic parents, rest assured that my imagination has not been running too wild after multiple readings of this book; I’ve had no irrational fears that the hissing sound in my radiators is actually a snake (well…). Don’t they say that the key to overcoming phobias is to face them straight on? Because I must admit, when viewed through the eyes of Nic Bishop, snakes are pretty darn fantastic.


In the afterward, photographer and author Nic Bishop reveals that he shared a room with an egg-swallowing snake for DAYS before he caught it mid-swallow!

Other “Favorites” about Snakes (a mix of storybooks and reference):
Snakes are Hunters: A Let’s Read and Find Out Book, by Patricia Lauber & Holly Keller (Ages 4-8)
Verdi, by Janell Cannon (Ages 4-8)
The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash, by Trinka Hakes Noble & Steven Kellogg (Ages 4-8)
About Reptiles: A Guide for Children, by Cathryn & John Sill (Ages 4-8)
The Snake Scientist, by Sy Montgomery & Nic Bishop (Ages 8-15)

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