The St John’s Cross Spider

Sara Whincup, illustrated by Kenn Yapsangco

Publisher: Xlibris Pages: 24 Price: (paperback) $28.22 ISBN: 9781503509856 Reviewed: April, 2016 Author Website: Visit »

The St John’s Cross Spider is a children’s picture book that explores the circle of life. An author’s note explains its aim: “This wondrous story gives very young children a glimpse into the world of nature and what surprises it holds if we can be patient and not interfere.”

This first-person narrative, based on the author’s experiences, follows a mother and child who live in a rainforest in Australia. They watch as a spider who becomes their friend weaves a web and gives birth: “…[E]ach month or so,/ She wove a small pouch,/ Which soon spilled out babies./ Hundreds blew south./” There’s a hint of religious imagery here, with the spider weaving a “sign of the cross” into her web, although the cross looks like an X, and it’s significance is never explained.

Soon, the spider passes away, and afterward, the family leaves its body alone until its desiccated corpse is broken apart and carried off by ants. “First went the legs,/ Carried up high./ Then the rest of her followed,/ And I said good-bye.”

Told in skilled rhyme, with gentle language and vibrant, well-executed illustrations, this story’s appropriateness will depend on individual parenting styles. Some parents will see it as a poetic view of death and renewal that describes the poignant and sometimes uncomfortable speed with which nature reclaims once-living bodies. Others will find it an unnecessarily harsh tale lacking details that could soften the stark reality; the story doesn’t document, for example, the spider’s children growing up to have babies and webs of their own. Readers in both camps will enjoy the unusual Australian creatures (cassowaries, pandanus, tree frogs) populating the book’s landscape.

Some will no doubt feel uncomfortable with sharing this material with their young children. Those who appreciate the book’s message will want to consider initiating conversations about the life cycle to help youngsters come to terms with this compelling, if potentially controversial story.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

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