About a month ago we had an ant disaster in our house. Some of our firewood had gotten wet, and was drying on the stove. I pulled the bark off one big piece to dry it faster--and there was an explosion of big black ants, desperate to escape being steamed alive, all over the living room. It was distressing for all of us, but my six year old decided then and there that he loathed and feared ants....
Then a few days ago, unasked for and unexpected, I got a book about ants in the mail--Little Black Ant on Park Street, by Janet Halfmann, illustrated by Kathleen Rietz (Smithsonian's Backyard, 2009). Janet Halfmann is just about my favorite non-fiction animal writer, so I was confident that this would be a good book. But would my son cooperate, or would he run screaming from the room?
Cautiously I sat on the sofa next to him, book in hand. "I don't want to listen," he said, but I ignored him, and began reading anyway. Soon he was absorbed, and then my nine year old drifted over and sat on my other side...and the world of a little black ant pulled them in.
It is a straightforward account of life for an ant--lots of busy-ness, some danger, the importance of the community, feeding the queen, etc. What makes Halfmann's ant prose stand out for me is not the scientific detail (although that is just fine). It is her ability to make the ant something to care about, without in anyway anthropomorphising it. The ant never shows human emotion--sure, she gets hungry, she huddles with her nest mates, the ant hill becomes excited when it's time for the queen to mate, but she's never afraid, or anxious, or happy.
Of course, these are little black ants, not the vast steampunkian behemoths who threatened our home last month. But still, I feel that excellent writing and good science have significantly dulled the edge of my boy's dislike!
Other Janet Halfmann books I've reviewed: Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, Seven Miles to Freedom: the Robert Smalls Story, Little Skink's Tail, Alligator at Saw Grass Road and Polar Bear Horizon, and Hermit Crab's Home: Safe in a Shell.
(disclaimer: my copy of Little Black Ant on Park Street was received from the publisher for review)
The Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Lerner Books Blog!