Friday, May 8, 2015

High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs & author interview

High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs
by Lisa Kahn Schnell; illus by Alan Marks
40 pages; ages 3-7
Charlesbridge, 2015

I love this book beginning with the endpages - which are scientific illustrations (with labels) of the dorsal and ventral side of a horseshoe crab (plus pedipalp details).

And then the title page, where you see a horseshoe crab scuttling up a beach. And then...

"It's starting. One spring night, the first horseshoe crab lunges onto shore."
Then... "They're arriving."
Later, "They're laying."
Until, finished, "They're leaving."

Who are "they"? Horseshoe crabs. Gulls and other shorebirds. Researchers and citizen scientists who've come to tag and count the crabs. And they're all converging on one beach in Delaware, on the day of high tide.

themes: animals, nature

What I like about this book - besides the endpages and awesome illustrations - is the way author Lisa K. Schnell layers the story. You can see it on the page below:

"They're arriving." Simple. Bold. Easy to read. Then a more detailed paragraph about how the crabs "crawl from the muck of their winter homes" and head toward Delaware Bay, where high tides will carry them far up the beach where their eggs will develop.

Another thing I love about this book is the back matter - and there's a lot. One page tells more about horseshoe crabs; another goes into detail about how the blue blood of horseshoe crabs is used by the medical industry to test for harmful bacteria on needles, pacemakers, and even in vaccines. There's a map, some resources for further investigation, and advice for where to find horseshoe crabs - and even how to get involved in crab counts.

Beyond the book: if you live near the east coast, head to a beach at high tide and look for these creatures of the ancient sea. OR, check out this video of horseshoe crabs.

Paint a picture or write a poem about horseshoe crabs and enter the "Horseshoe Crabs and the Arts" Young Voices competition (deadline June 15). Maybe horseshoe haiku is your calling? Or perhaps you prefer to capture crabs through the viewfinder of your camera... Check out this photo of crab-tracks, an entry from an earlier year.

Swim like a horseshoe crab. Normally, they swim upside down - but they have a lot more legs, plus gills and a tail to help them move about. You can take swimming lessons from this young horseshoe crab.

I met Lisa a few years ago at a Highlights Founder's science-writing workshop. Later, we shared what we were working on, so I've seen this book develop from an itsy-bitsy idea into an adult horseshoe crab. I caught up with Lisa last week and asked her Three & 1/2 Questions about her book.

Archimedes: What inspired you to write about horseshoe crabs?

Lisa: Early one morning I was walking along the beach and encountered a horseshoe crab. I had seen many, while growing up, but this time it caught my attention. It was returning to the water, such a simple action, and yet I could identify with this animal and its struggles. I wanted to learn more, but couldn't find much information. That really surprised me because these creatures are all around us, and we see them everywhere. So I started doing research and learned that they've been swimming in the oceans for about 500 million years! Then I knew I wanted to write something that would be fun and would get kids outside to look at something.

Archimedes: What sort of research did you do?

Lisa: I talked to a lot of scientists - horseshoe crab experts and bird scientists and statisticians. And I got to do some field work - I found a person doing crab tagging and surveying and asked if I could tag along. I didn't realize how many people would be involved - there were about 50 people on just one beach... kid, parents. They had taken training to become crab-taggers and counters for the surveys.

Archimedes: So I hear you mailed a couple of crabs to Alan, the illustrator?

Lisa: Goodness, no! Horseshoe crabs would go bad and stink. I sent him some molts - the shells cast off by juvenile crabs that are growing. I had participated in a "Green Eggs and Sand" educators weekend and the leader offered the molts to me. They helped Alan to see details of the crab - but because they were molts, it was an immature crab, not an adult.

Archimedes: Did you learn anything that surprised you as you researched your book?

Lisa: Most of the things I learned surprised me. Horseshoe crabs are unsung heroes - their blood is blue and has unique chemicals that make it ideal for use in the biomedical industry. Another thing that amazed me is that the crabs bury their eggs in the sand, and another crab might dig them up as she's getting ready to lay her own eggs. The exposed eggs begin to dry out - but they are eaten by birds and other animals. They're a high-protein food source and integral to the food web.

Lisa is busy with a new project (it's a secret) - but she has a website where you can see what she's up to.

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. We're also joining PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture BooksReview copy from publisher.


  1. Wow, it sounds as though the author has packed so much into one little picture book. I will look at these crabs differently now! Loved the interview, too, Sue.

  2. What a timely topic!

    You got to go to a Highlights workshop? I have been wanting to do that for ages. Looks like Lisa put her training to good use with a really special book.

    1. Go. Don't wait till you can afford it (they have grants), till the kids are grown, till you have time - go now, while you can capitalize on what you learn.

  3. Cool book, but I won't be reading it for awhile. I just finished my ARC of Erika Swler's debut novel, The Book of Speculation. Let's just say horseshoe crabs play a part in the story which have me trying to forget them for awhile. But I bet Erika would love this book. I'll bookmark it for later. ;)

    1. You've piqued my interest - are you reviewing Erika's book?

  4. I'm not a horseshoe crab fan, and yet I would read this PB. Great review!

  5. Looking for horseshoe crabs was a favorite childhood activity! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Thanks for this post. The interview was fascinating and the book looks fascinating as well. I will definitely check it out.