It takes a special kind of parent to turn their child's experiences and perspective into a book for other children and their parents, but Peter O'Brien succeeds with the 26-page book What Are You Doing Up There, You Spider?. Together with illustrator Carlo Sitaro, he delivers a captivating story that also introduces children to spider biology and behavior.
I know Peter's wife, Louise Lynch, and when she approached me to have a look at the book I was a bit skeptical. Peter is best known for excellence in filmmaking, including directing, but I was not familiar with his writing skills. If this children's book is any indication, he is an exceptionally versatile creative person. The story is true right down to the speech patterns of young children. I initially found the book title awkward, and I kept omitting the second "you" in the title when I read it; but that is exactly how children talk, and I could easily imagine each encounter of the human character, Liam, with the spider.
The rhyming style of the text is sophisticated and sometimes oblique, which I find refreshing. The author clearly assumes his audience is up to the challenge, and does not "dumb down" the prose and poetry. This book achieves both vocabulary lessons and cultivates an appreciation of spiders, even indoors where they are generally not welcome. The book inspires curiosity and observation, admirable qualities in human beings of any age. Parents will learn as much as their children from this book.
Liam is inspired by a real-life Liam, nephew to Louise, and I suspect that the fictional character is true to his living inspiration. I see a little of myself in Liam, too, from when I was a curious child.
Juvenile literature about natural history subjects is too often fraught with errors, or presented in a less-than-enthralling manner, or both. This is a unique introduction to arachnids in story form that will not frighten children, but encourage them to seek their own discoveries.