A Huntsman Spider in my House – Book Review

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We love books in our house. They are precious gifts to be cherished and loved forever. So when I was offered the opportunity to review a new children’s book for my blog it took me all of 0.35 seconds to say yes.

A Huntsman Spider in my House
Written by – Michelle K. Ray
Illustrated by – Sylvie Ashford

I have to confess I’m not a fan of spiders, or any other creatures that have wiggly legs and that scuttling behaviour that makes me go all prickly. But I am super-keen not to pass my own issues onto my kids and so am very careful to control my response to bugs when confronted with them. Where I fall short is in actively promoting a happy and lively interest in them and that’s a shame, especially for my little boy, who seems very inquisitive where small creatures are concerned.

A Huntsman Spider in my House addresses all of these issues perfectly. It is a delightful and charming tale of a Huntsman spider who lives in the house of a young girl. She is afraid of the spider, and the story follows her beautifully simplistic childlike thought process as she explores her feelings about it, and the ways in which the spider could be dealt with.

The story manages to deliver a valuable lesson on treating all such creatures with respect, without falling into the trap of being preachy. It leaves you with a deep sense of satisfaction, and provides a practical fear-resolution solution to which kids of all ages can relate.

My six-year-old daughter was able to read the book to me, and my three-year-old son listened attentively – the simple rhyming rhythm of the text creates a natural flow for the story, which is beautifully illustrated with images that are rich in colour and engaging in their reinforcement of the story.

Many children’s books on spiders seek to down-play the scary-spider imagery with caricatured animations that detract from the real creature features. Not so in this book. Although he has a friendly face the spider is depicted as big and brown and hairy – just like a real Huntsman Spider. When I first saw the cover I had to suppress an involuntary shudder, but the more I read this book the more I feel comfortable around the images. My kids had no such preconceptions (my efforts at concealing my own spider-fear issues are thankfully paying off!). My son actively enjoyed touching the pictures of the spider on each page. It was as if he found them reassuring.

And that’s the point. This book isn’t just about what you can do if you find a spider in your house. It’s about raising awareness about them, demystifying them, and dispelling common myths. I particularly like how, at the end of the book, there is a section of facts about the Huntsman spider, and website links where the curious can find out more. One final lovely touch is a colouring page that invites children to adorn their very own Huntsman spider picture in whatever colours they choose.

We don’t have Huntsman spiders where I live (in France) but some pretty fierce-looking House spiders tramp in and out each Autumn and Spring. Just last night I found one resting on the wall above my bed. It’s always been our habit to simply evict spiders who have taken up residence a little too close for comfort, but as I watched my husband capture the not-so-little chap in a glass and wander up the field in the moonlight to release him I thought about this book, and felt content that its tale may cause even one person to pause for thought before they mindlessly kill a spider they find in their home.

The book is the first in an intended series entitled ‘Little Aussie Critters’. If the rest of the stories are as well presented as this then they will make a valuable addition to any bookshelf.

A Huntsman Spider in my House is widely available, via Amazon and the like, in both hard copy and e-book format.
ISBN – 978-1-61448-842-2

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Bows and Arrows

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As a budget conscious parent I’m always on the lookout for fun things to do with the children that don’t cost anything. The natural world has a lot to offer, and as we mooched about the site on a recent camping trip, an idea presented itself ….

We were collecting twigs for a campfire, and as we scanned the sun-bleached grass for suitable tinder wood my mind began to play tricks – were the twigs lying randomly on the ground, or was there an order to their arrangement?

After going slightly cross-eyed, I vaguely recalled reading ages ago of some psychological research around the idea that the brain seeks to find familiar shapes out of random forms – it’s one of the reasons why cloud watching works so well.

In seeking order from the twig-collection my brain was finding apparent pathways, and it struck me we could make a simple treasure trail.

So we arranged arrows every few paces on the ground, in a meandering path around the site, and the children had great fun following it (well, Joe, 2, tried to dismantle it, but was eventually dissuaded from his task with the lure of a mid-afternoon snack!).

Not satisfied with just a trail, my daughter decided that it must lead to some treasure.  So we hunted for precious things that would make suitable booty.  A pale flat stone, a feather and a perfect blade of yellow hay caught her imagination.  A stray red strand of thin plastic, which I think was originally a tie for a bin bag, made the perfect ribbon and bow for our parcel.

Trail and treasure complete, we had a fun hour hiding, tracing, and discovering … a game that was repeated with multiple changes of route and secret hiding places for the treasure.

Hunting for Fairies

I find nothing fires the imagination of my 5 year old daughter more than the idea of magic.  Anything that you can’t pin down, and which allows your imagination to run wild and my girl is away in her head, creating and exploring worlds that have no earthly existence, but which to her are so very real.  Fairies fit into this idea very nicely.  You can’t see them, so you cannot say they do not exist.  They might.  And the thrill of this can keep her occupied for hours.

Anytime you are out and about, in your garden or anywhere even slightly green, there is the opportunity to go fairy hunting.  I love opening my own mind in this way, and accessing my inner child.  It is liberating and quite a challenge to set aside the practical mind constraints that the adult world imposes.  Ella at first follows, and them leads in the creativity.  Hers knows no bounds.  We have created a gentle “ting ting ting ting” sound that reflects what she imagines they may sound like when they fly.  And so we stop in the fresh-air silence and listen.  We have heard them, just faintly, many times.  Then they know we are listening, and so they stop.  No, really, they do.

Thinking about their habitat is a lot of fun too.  Wild mushrooms are obviously tables for the fairy dance, and rocks provide hiding places for fairy hide-and-seek.  Acorn cups are the perfect cups and bowls.  Crinkly brown leaves are what the fairies use as confetti, and the lush green ones are perfect for surfing or fairy magic carpets.  Holes in trees are the fairy houses into which we carefully place soft cut grass or heather for their beds, and abandoned rabbit holes show that the fairies have a clever network of underground tunnels that allow them to stay hidden.  They’re not daft these fairies.

At home, our explorations complete, and imaginations exhausted, we take the table from the doll’s house and gently lay acorn cups supported on plasticine upon it.  Filling them with minute drops of water provides a signal to the fairies that they are invited to come and play in the night.  Now she is learning to write, she will often leave a note for them, with instructions on where to sit, or which of her toys they may play with.  From time to time we also leave a real fairy cake.  Both it, and the water, are always gone in the morning.  Eyes tight shut in bed, my girl is convinced she hears them, but never peeps because that would break the spell.

Fairy hunting is great for stretching the imagination of your child.  And yours too.  The real world will interrupt their innocent musings all too soon, so I like to take every chance we have to exercise that sense of wonder in the hope she will carry some of it into her adult life.  Who knows, maybe the fairies will follow?