I went out into the Bridge Meadows community courtyard last week and found a crowd of kids clustered about 6 feet away from the bike rack. They would shuffle towards it in a pack, then scream and run away from it. It turns out a black and white spider with green spots was on one of the racks.
“It’s a wolf spider, the most poisonous spider in the world,” one of the kids said.
I couldn’t remember, but I thought a wolf spider was brown. As I got closer to the spider, one of the kids got hysterical and screamed, “Stay away, it’ll bite you and kill you.” He was in tears. I took a minute to comfort him and tell him I wasn’t going to touch it.
“The spider’s probably more scared than we are. Look how big we are compared to it. We’re like monsters to it.”
Another boy took this as a cue to advance with a toy and say he was going to kill it. He didn’t get within arm’s reach of it though.
I asked them all to leave it alone. I would get a container and take it far away from them.
I went in, came back with a plastic container. I wore a leather glove and guided the spider into the container and sealed it.
Then the children all gathered around and we looked at it closer. It was a pretty spider. I suggested we look it up on the internet, but most of the children were bored of it by then. Two of the girls, ages 8 and 10, who are budding naturalists, wanted to learn more, so they followed me into my apartment and we googled the spider.
We think it was a jumping spider, and that the green spots were its eyes. Jumping spiders can bite, and that can irritate, but no more so than a mosquito bite.
We looked up wolf spiders, and the most venomous spiders. We also looked up whether or not the bug known as the Daddy Long Legs is the most poisonous spider, but its teeth are too small to bite humans, since one of the girls had heard that at school.
It’s not true. It’s not a spider, it has no venom, and it has no teeth.
Then we let our jumping spider go in the greenway that surrounds my apartment building.
The next day, I got a copy of I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton, (Viking, 2015) a delightful picture book that introduces young kids to spiders in a playful way.
Barton acknowledges her fear of spiders right away and it’s a natural fear. Insects and spiders of all kinds can be quite toxic. A fear of them is probably good for us, but it needn’t be a paralyzing fear.
Many spiders are friends to us – they eat insects that destroy our gardens and invade our homes. I especially like that they eat one of the most dangerous of insects in the world, the mosquito. (Through the diseases it carries, the mosquito is responsible for 725,000 deaths a year – almost as many as that most dangerous of animals, humans.)
I loved reading this book to the boy, age 5, who had such a fear of spiders. It’s so honest, and several spiders get smushed. I got a few “eeewws” and a lot of laughter.
It helped him understand spiders a bit more and fear a bit more. He liked that Barton didn’t actually conquer her fears but learned to like spiders – mostly. We’re going to respect them from a distance.
Barton’s style is splashy, inky, and friendly. She invites touch and her watercolor is charge with energy. This book is part of her own desire to understand spiders.
You can find more about her and her books here.
This book was one of the finalists for the Children’s Choice Third – Fourth Grade Book of the Year. I found it to be a great book for much younger children. In fact, my 3rd grade budding naturalist likes reading it to younger children. It doesn’t get better than that!
You can see all the finalists for the Children’s Choice Book Awards here: http://www.cbcbooks.org/ninth-annual-childrens-choice-book-awards-finalists-announced/#.VyfJ5jArKM-
This post is a part of Children’s Book Week, May 2 – 8. I’ll post on children’s books every day this week. To find more great children’s books, check out the Children’s Book Week website. They have a list of events going on all over the country, maybe one near you. You can find links to their facebook and twitter pages there, too.
If you see a spider today, don’t smash it. Give it a little nod of respect, and congratulate yourself for appreciating all of nature’s wonders.