cover image ONCE I KNEW A SPIDER


Jennifer Dewey, , illus. by Jean Cassels. . Walker, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8027-8700-2

An unlikely bond—between a woman pregnant with her first child and an orb weaver spider that spins a web and egg sac in the arched window of the woman's adobe-style home—forms in Dewey's (Antarctic Journal) eloquent meditation on the cycle of life. The muted tones of Cassels's (Whinny of the Wild Horses) austere interiors and the detailed paintings of the spider's behavior complement the calm, contemplative tone of the journal-like text. A triptych of window views, for instance, chronicles the spider weaving her web; another trio of vignettes shows the spider mounting a protective outer covering for her eggs. "You've done a wonderful job," the woman tells the yellow-and-black spider upon the completion of its eggs' shelter, as she caresses her own bulging stomach. The woman's connection to the spider deepens after the birth of her child ("I held the baby up... so the spider might have a good look"), and she watches as the spider and sac tenaciously survive the winter in "a tiny snow cave." The ending (which may remind some youngsters of Charlotte's Web) is, of course, bittersweet—but the spider leaves behind a web-spinning brood. Dewey never anthropomorphizes the arachnid, yet the parallel between the two mothers yields a surprising poignancy. Cassels's compositions similarly connect their shared experience—even the baby's spring-green shirt echoes the color of the foliage behind the web. Ages 4-8. (May)