Sunday, June 26, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Up, Up & Away!

Up, Up and Away
Written by Ginger Wadsworth, illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne
32 pages, for ages 4 - 9
Charlesbridge, 2009

I have lots of spiders in my garden – hairy wolf spiders the size of quarters, nursery-web spiders that protect their eggs, and bright yellow and black garden spiders with zig-zaggy designs in their webs. But one sight I have yet to see is hundreds of tiny spiderlings riding air currents on their skinny silk parachutes.

So I’m glad that Ginger Wadsworth and Patricia Wynne teamed up to show how baby spiders travel by flying Up, Up and Away. Spiderlings spin silk draglines that catch the breeze – and because the baby spiders are so lightweight they’re carried into the air. It’s called “ballooning”, and they ride the air currents until evening when the air cools and drops them onto field or forest or your back yard.

I asked Wadsworth what inspired this book. “I’ve always been fascinated with the  ballooning spiders I encountered in my garden,” she said. “Also, the concept of moving away and finding a new home, whether for a spider or for a child, is a universal theme.” Wadsworth credits her penpal, Adirondack naturalist Ed Kanze, with inspiring her. “He wrote about how far ballooning spiders might travel, and that column stuck with me!” 

Wadsworth’s book follows the adventures of one young spider who manages to avoid becoming lunch for a lizard and evades the pointy end of a hungry bird’s beak. After landing on a fence near a farm, the young spider begins spinning a web. “Without a single lesson she knows what to do,” Wadsworth writes.

All spring and summer the spider builds webs and catches dinner. “She bites her prey with powerful jaws and sucks up juicy beetle guts …” M-M good!  After mating, the spider lays her eggs, wraps them in silk and dies, as every mother spider must do. But life goes on. Her babies hatch out and wait for spring when they, too will fly up, up and away.

Wadsworth admits that she learned a lot about spiders while working on the book. But with thousands of species inhabiting our planet, she felt she had to focus on one kind for the story. “I chose the garden spider because of their beautiful webs, and because they are so common that children might spot them in a park or garden,” she says. “Plus they are gorgeous-looking spiders.”

What people don’t know is that spiders are really fragile creatures, Wadworth explained. When she was working on her book, Rachel Carson, Voice for the Earth, she read how Carson carried  spiders outside to release them. “Now we have a rule in our household that everyone is expected to gently wrap a spider in a paper towel or piece of Kleenex and carry it out,” Wadsworth says. “Or they can ask me to do it.”

A great book for kids who want to learn more about the secret life of spiders, with delightful illustrations.

This post is part of the Nonfiction Monday Round-Up hosted this week by Wendie’s Wanderings; review copy from the shelves of Candor Free Library. Click here to watch the book trailer at Wadsworth's website.

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