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Once I Knew a Spider

Once I Knew a Spider

by Jennifer Owings Dewey, Jean Cassels (Illustrator), Jennifer Owlings Dewey

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One day a spider appeared on the window ledge outside the glass. Right away she began to spin a web.

Thus begins an inspiring true story—a story of an expectant mother who develops an unexpected relationship with the spider that makes a home outside her window. As the summer and the mother's pregnancy progress, the spider is beginning its own circle


One day a spider appeared on the window ledge outside the glass. Right away she began to spin a web.

Thus begins an inspiring true story—a story of an expectant mother who develops an unexpected relationship with the spider that makes a home outside her window. As the summer and the mother's pregnancy progress, the spider is beginning its own circle of life. From its first graceful web, to its creation of a delicate egg sac, the spider lives through the fall season, and what should be the end of its life. But by a small miracle of nature, the orb weaver endures the snow and the winter, and stays with her eggs until spring.

This gentle story with strikingly detailed illustrations reveals the exceptional magic in the everyday world, and how it can touch our lives. The parallel stories of the human mother and the spider show how stopping to observe nature can allow you to witness everyday miracles. Additional in-depth information on spiders is included in an afterword.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
An unlikely bond between a woman pregnant with her first child and an orb weaver spider that spins a web and egg sac in the arched window of the woman's adobe-style home forms in Dewey's (Antarctic Journal) eloquent meditation on the cycle of life. The muted tones of Cassels's (Whinny of the Wild Horses) austere interiors and the detailed paintings of the spider's behavior complement the calm, contemplative tone of the journal-like text. A triptych of window views, for instance, chronicles the spider weaving her web; another trio of vignettes shows the spider mounting a protective outer covering for her eggs. "You've done a wonderful job," the woman tells the yellow-and-black spider upon the completion of its eggs' shelter, as she caresses her own bulging stomach. The woman's connection to the spider deepens after the birth of her child ("I held the baby up... so the spider might have a good look"), and she watches as the spider and sac tenaciously survive the winter in "a tiny snow cave." The ending (which may remind some youngsters of Charlotte's Web) is, of course, bittersweet but the spider leaves behind a web-spinning brood. Dewey never anthropomorphizes the arachnid, yet the parallel between the two mothers yields a surprising poignancy. Cassels's compositions similarly connect their shared experience even the baby's spring-green shirt echoes the color of the foliage behind the web. Ages 4-8. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
An expectant mother interweaves the story of her child with that of an orb weaver spider. She watches the web construction and the catching of insects. As her womb grows, the spider gets fatter also, finally spinning a sack for her eggs. The baby arrives, then winter comes, but surprisingly the spider survives until her eggs hatch the following June, providing a symbol of life going on. Cassels's visual narrative is as low key and almost matter-of-fact as the gentle text. Her gouache painted scenes are naturalistic portraits of the couple, the infant, the adobe house, and close-ups of the spider in action. Words and images cooperate to deliver scientific facts in a most attractive format. There are additional factual notes. 2002, Walker & Company,
— Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 2-A pregnant woman watches as a spider spins her web in a window in her house. As time goes by and the baby is born and grows bigger, the common orb weaver lays eggs, protects them in an egg case, and eventually dies. The juxtaposition of the woman's pregnancy, the passage of seasons, and the insect's life cycle provides a gentle yet profound message of renewal and the continuing rhythm of life. Told from the woman's point of view, the text is more like an adult relating an event to a child than a story. It provides factual information and, despite its fictional framework, remains objective and never anthropomorphic in its treatment of the spider. Cassels's gouache illustrations are best when providing close-ups of the creature and her web. While the woman sometimes looks androgynous and her adobe house bare, the spider and her web-wrapped victims are eye-catching and realistic. This would be a fine choice for elementary science classes. Pair it with Faith McNulty's The Lady and the Spider (HarperCollins, 1986), which is told more from a spider's viewpoint.-Louise L. Sherman, formerly at Anna C. Scott School, Leonia, NJ Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Dewey (Paisano, the Roadrunner, 2001, etc.) spins a quiet tale describing the unusually long life of a particular orb spider that lays her eggs in the window of an adobe house. An expectant mother observes the spider during the last months of her pregnancy, and in first-person narrative, she compares her time of waiting and care for her newborn daughter with the mother spider's behavior. The spider survives through an extra winter and finally dies in the spring shortly after her sac opens, releasing "a cloud of spiderlings drifting on the breeze." Because "her young grew up and built egg sacs of their own," the narrator and her husband and daughter are reminded of the long-lived spider whenever they see orb weavers at work. Cassels (Earthmates, 2000, etc.) provides competent close-up illustrations of the spider, tender views of the mother and baby, and the effective repeated device of the spider's home in an arched window. The spider life cycle is commonly studied in the early elementary grades, and this examination of an orb spider's life cycle with detailed illustrations of each stage will serve for related literature as well as for scientific reference. An author's note provides an additional page of facts about spiders and their behavior. (Picture book. 5-8)

Product Details

Walker & Company
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.28(w) x 10.20(h) x 0.37(d)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Jennifer Owings Dewey has written and/or illustrated forty-five books for children. Her love of the wilderness has led her to focus on creating books on natural history. Among her award-winning titles are Wildlife Rescue: The Work of Kathleen Ramsay and Mud Matters: Stories from a Mud Lover. A mother of four grown children, and grandmother of four, she teaches drawing and writing to teenagers in her hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Jean Cassels has illustrated more than fifty natural history books for children, but she also has a talent for more whimsical images of birds and beasts and bugs wearing all the latest fashions, as seen in The Mysterious Collection of Dr. David Harleyson. The mother of two grown sons, she lives with her husband in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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