“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Friday, March 5, 2010

Big Night for Salamanders • Picture Book

Big Night for Salamanders
by Sarah Marwil Lamstein illustrated by Carol Benioff 
Just out! March 2010 Boyds Mills Press Ages 4-9
Go slow!  Salamander crossing!
Story:  During the first warm rainy night of spring -- Big Night -- spotted salamanders by the hundreds crawl out of the woods and down to a natural pool across the road.  There they will breed and lay their eggs.  Evan and his parents know the salamanders need their help.  Crossing a road at night is dangerous, especially for small amphibians.  The family slows the traffic.  They carry salamanders across the road.  But the cars keep coming, and the hour is late.  How can the family help these delicate creatures cross the road in safety?  Evan has the solution.... Throughout North America, people help salamanders and other amphibians cross roads during their spring migration.  They watch weather forecasts.  They call one another by telephone.  They announce the event by e-mail.  "Here come the spotted salamanders.  It's Big Night!"
Story behind the story:  "Over the years on Big Night, I’ve joined crews of people, young and old, patrolling roads that slice the salamanders’ path." Sarah says.  "We gently lift the spotted creatures and carry them across the road, out of harm’s way, then set them down on the other side to continue their important journey.  Always the children among us are the most eager to help.  This happy intersection of child and critter is what I write about in Big Night for Salamanders."

"The gouache paintings add color and drama to this informative picture book.  A solid choice for primary-grade science units." -- Booklist

"The text elegantly blends fiction and nonfiction, alternating between lyrical, italicized descriptions of the salamanders and their movements and a straightforward narrative about the family helping them. The use of present tense lends immediacy and suspense to the tale, and Benioff's gouache illustrations impart a sense of wonder. A comprehensive afterword gives more details about the life cycle of the spotted salamander, Big Night, and vernal pools. An excellent addition to science units, and could be paired with Anne Mazer's The Salamander Room (Knopf, 1991) for a super salamander storytime." -- School Library Journal

For more information on vernal pool ecology and the protection of resources, see the Vernal Pool Association's website.

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.


Anonymous said...

I just received the ‘Folded and Gathered’ copy of Big Night for Salamanders by Sarah Marwil Lamstein and I love it. It has already landed in the first grade classroom. The teacher is excited as she does a science unit soon with life cycles and she will then pass it onto a kindergarten teacher for a follow up of her unit from the fall.

Students will adore Evan and his salamanders. They will connect to his desire to save them. The art teacher wants it after her.

I give this book a hardy 5 out of 5!

Pamela Kramer said...

Big Night for Salamanders is a great book for all ages. I loved learning about how the salamanders survive and reproduce. I think it is so important for children to learn about vernal pools (as so many are disappearing with the loss of natural lands) and the wildlife whose survival depends on them.

The illustrations are beautifully done. The story is good, the two-page Life Cycle of the Spotted Salamander even better, with the fact on the next pages about the Big Night and vernal pools.

This book would be a great addition to any classroom. I give it a 5/5!

Angela said...

Big Night for Salamanders gets a 5 out of 5 rating in my book. I love how the author blended a fictional story with so much scientific fact. The end matter that explained about the life cycle of salamanders, the Big Night, and the vernal pools answered every question that arose as I read the story and left me quite satisfied.

The text of the story itself offers a great model for many writing lessons. The word choice is strong, especially the use of strong verbs like emerging, patters, and creep, to name a few. Also, the words were used in unexpected ways and create unexpected images for the reader, like "The moist air bathes their delicate skin" and "Evan's question floats..."

The story built in a suspenseful way at the beginning, as Evan anticipated the Big Night. The reader is unsure of what this is, but can sense the character's excitement and the fact that he has done this before. I loved the juxtaposition of Evan's thoughts with what the salamanders were doing. I was interested, at the end, to find out that the Big Night really does exist. A great discussion to have with students - which parts of the story are based on fact. When I read the part about the people who help the salamanders watching out for their own safety I was a bit relieved. As I read the story I found myself thinking, isn't it a little dangerous for all involved to furiously flash down an unaware driver on a rainy night? That was the only part of the story I didn't love.

The verso page of this book is full of information to draw students' attention to. The acknowledgments of all the people who consulted on this book verify the author's credibility.

And one last thing... I love that this came as a Folded and Gathered copy so that students can see a book at this stage. I want the bound version too!

Lisa said...

This book would be good for a science unit on life cycles or amphibians. I liked the idea of the parallel stories of the salamanders and the boy. The story of Evan, the boy who helps the salamanders, was very simplistic, making the book a good choice for younger elementary students. The notes at the end containing the scientific information is helpful in explaining the phenomenon of salamander crossings.

loonyhiker said...

I would definitely give this book a 5! It is a great picture book for elementary school students and the illustrations are awesome. They are bright and colorful which would appeal to all students. The story is heartwarming also. I felt this book gave great information about salamanders because it included the “Life Cycle of the Spotted Salamander” at the end of the story as well as information about the Big Night and Vernal Pools. There was a great glossary at the end also which would be good to use to improve vocabulary. This book would be great to use in a science lesson as well as a reading lesson. I could easily see this being used in special education classrooms as well as general education classes.

Heather Hill said...

Big Night for Salamanders is a 5 out of 5! Students of all ages will be drawn in by the hook of the story line and stay for the science lesson. And the presentation of the science is quite satisfying and thorough. This will become a staple in elementary classrooms who study life cycles and a favorite to return to for the kids and teachers alike.

Heather Hill, Reading Specialist
Enterprise Elementary
Woodbridge, VA

http://lemontheduck.com said...

A wonderful read. This book blends fact and fiction perfectly. The language is beautiful, the information unique. The back matter has a wealth of information of its own. The tradition of the Big night was important to both the family and the salamanders and it introduces the idea of conservation to children in a high interest story they can see themselves in.
The artwork and layout of the book suits the story. This book has much to offer the reader. It is a terrific stand alone read, as part of a life cycles science unit, or a great example of word choice in writing.
This book, inspired by true events, is sure to be read over and over again.
I rate this book a 5 out of 5.
Laura Backman
Hathaway School

Julie Hembree, Kirkland, WA said...

Children will love Big Night by Sarah Marwil Lamstein-the story of how a family helps spotted salamanders cross the road safely during their spring migration. The brightly painted illustrations by Carol Benioff make this charming story come alive. I especially appreciated the end notes, where Lamstein explains the life cycle of the spotted salamander and defines the key words, Big Night and Vernal Pools in detail. She also includes a glossary and index. The way Big Night weaves non-fiction facts into a delightful story will be a delicious delight for any elementary library. I rate this book a 5 out of 5!

Anonymous said...

There is so much to love about this book- the rich storyline infused with natural science lessons, the fact pages at the end for more information, and the illustrations which allow the child's race to remain ambiguous. All together, this adds up to an excellent book which will provide children and their readers with an engaging story to share and lots to learn about, with answers to questions that come up in the fact pages at the end. Every child will seem him or herself in Evan, who is portrayed in a race neutral palette. I rate this a 5 out of 5.

Susan O'Connell
Jeudevine Memorial LIbrary
Hardwick, VT

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