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Eric S. Grace
Toronto, Key Porter Books, 1994. 64pp, paper, ISBN 1-55013-584-8 (paper) $14.95
ISBN 1-55013-546-5 (cloth) $19.95. (Natural History). CIP

Subject Heading:
Snakes-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-9 / Ages 8-14

Reviewed by Peter Croskery

Volume 22 Number 6
1994 November / December

Snakes is the most recent book in Key Porte's "Natural History" series. Previously published titles include Bears, Eagles (1990), Seals (1991) and Wolves (1990).

Grace has organized his review of snake biology into seven sections: "Slithering Serpents," "Cold Blooded Reptiles," Snake Anatomy," "Snake Families," "The Hunt for Food," "Snake Reproduction," and "Snakes in the Environment." Each reviews certain unique aspects of snake ecology without falling into the trap of getting lost in technical detail and/or language. As in Bears, the text is appropriately written for a young reader (eight to fourteen).

Scattered throughout the book are numerous colour photographs. The photos serve to illustrate variations in snake coloration, size and anatomical features. They are snake pictures rather than photos that complement the text.

In addition to the extensive use of colour photographs, there are numerous line drawings. These are used to illustrate how snakes "slither," how they swallow their food, and the differences between snakes and lizards. The line drawings are very useful in helping the reader understand some unique snake biology.

The section dealing with snake families is well written for young readers. It illustrates the range of differences that exists without confusing the reader with a lot of taxonomic detail. And it reinforces the point that better than 75 per cent of all snakes are not poisonous or dangerous to humans.

Although a reference list is not included, the book does have a useful index at the back. As the author points out, human ignorance of and misunderstanding about snakes are widespread. "The biggest threat of all to every type of snake does not come from other animals or the climate. It comes from people. Snakes are killed by people who are afraid of them.... Humans slaughter hundreds of thousands of snakes each year." This publication goes a long way towards clarifying information about snakes and it does so without using a preachy tone.

As was the case with Bears, this book is highly recommended and would be a valuable addition to any public school library.

Peter Croskery in Grimsby, Ontario, is a biologist, freelance writer and instructor specializing in environmental issues

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