The Snake Scientist is a children’s book about garter snakes that does more than just talk about garter snakes. Author Sy Montgomery, who has since written a number of children’s books about wildlife (as well as titles for adults), focuses on the amazing phenomenon of the Narcisse snake dens in Manitoba, where Red-sided Garter Snakes hibernate by the tens of thousands, and on the research conducted on them by Oregon State University professor Robert Mason.
Aimed at readers aged 9 to 12, The Snake Scientist doesn’t insult the intelligence of older readers. In 48 pages, Montgomery expertly covers quite a bit of ground in easy-to-follow prose. She starts with the snake dens themselves, how and why the snakes hibernate there, and what they do when they wake up (i.e., mating). From there, a brief detour into the basics of snake biology before returning to Bob Mason’s research. Not only does she deal with what Mason has been studying — how snakes use pheromones — but also how he studies it, providing a great look at how field research is done. For children interested in studying wildlife, this is fantastic.
No disrespect to Montgomery or her writing is intended when I say that the highlight of The Snake Scientist is Nic Bishop’s photography. The shots of Mason and his students conducting their field research are pretty good, by my favourites have to be the amazing macro shots of multiple garter snakes in closeup. For whatever reason, I think that 30 or 40 garter snakes, alert and attentive (usually males looking for a mate, or on top of one), is just about the cutest thing you can take a picture of. Bishop’s photography is first-rate and will bring a smile to anyone who likes garter snakes.
The Snake Scientist
by Sy Montgomery
Sandpiper, 1999. Paperback, 48 pp. ISBN 978-0-618-111190