For the last hour of the Read-a-thon, I abandoned my original choices and went with something quick and easy from the general to-be-read pile: Felix Takes the Stage, by Kathryn Lasky (Scholastic, May 2010, for ages 7-9, 148 pages).
It can be hard to be a young brown recluse spider with a fondness for the arts. People tend not to want extremely venomous spiders around, and brown recluses, in general, aren't known for their beautiful webs.
But young Felix, growing up in a California concert hall, spends his evenings admiring the conductor, wanting to be part of the music...until one evening, when he gets to close to the conductor, and lets himself be seen. The conductor has a heart attack, Felix looses a leg, and the exterminators are on their way...so the spider family (mother, two older sisters, and Felix, and the god-spider theatre cat who's known the children since they were eggs) must find a new home.
The antique store nearby offers shelter, but other spiders already live there, including snooty orb weavers, the dangerous pirate spiders. It's not the place where cultured, intellectual mother spider wants her children to live. Maybe it's time to move to Boston, where there are great libraries, theaters, art galleries....maybe there Felix can find an outlet for his creative urges.
A charming spider story for the young. Older readers (like me) might find it too didactic at times--not only does the mother spider herself directly instruct her young throughout the book on various topics, there are many embedded lessons, primarily on the topic of judging people/spiders not by their venom, but by their characters. But for the young intended audience, this is, I think, a fresher, more salient point of view than it is for the adult reader, and it's certainly a lesson I want my children to learn. And the charm of seeing the world from a spidery point of view, with many little humorous details to chuckle over, keeps the story moving nicely despite the moral underlinings.
I read this book in art form, without its final art, so cannot speak to the appeal of the finished product. But I think it's a good one to give, in particular, to the child fascinated by the world of animals (and then next year said child can read Masterpiece, by Elise Broach, the story of an artistic beetle). Even though it's ostensibly for youngish readers (friendly font size, pictures, short chapters--that sort of thing), I think it has enough interest to be a good choice for the nine year oldish child who lacks reading confidence.
Postscript: I especially liked the Black Widow couple, Albert and Rachel: "...the two were on their honeymoon as well, and they were determined to buck the current. Rachel point-blank refused to kill her mate. "Tough spinnerets!" she huffed. "This one's a keeper. I'm not letting him go!" (page 69 of ARC)
(disclaimer: ARC received from the publisher at ALA Midwinter)