The Great Snake: Stories from the Amazon (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2008) is a fascinating collection of nine stories interwoven with factual details of author Sean Taylor’s travels through the Amazon rainforest. The inclusion of these elements sets the stories in context and makes the book work as nonfiction as well. Taylor’s descriptions convey an intense sense of place, detailing the flora, fauna, smells, and the environment of the rain forest and the people he meets and swaps stories with. Taylor’s source notes are a joy, listing the individual from whom he heard the story, the place, and often other versions. An endnote from the author explains the current destruction of the rain forest and the risks this environment is facing. The only additional thing I would have liked was a map of the locations mentioned.
Taylor has visited the rainforest multiple times and is married to a Brazilian. Illustrator Fernando Vilela lives in Brazil and his work has won awards from the Brazilian branch of IBBY. Villela’s woodcut and print illustrations wonderfully complement the text, often weaving around it, enclosing the text, or becoming part of the story. You can get a sense of their intricacy and vibrancy by viewing the Google preview of the book: http://books.google.com/books?id=hDodnFV7LjcC&printsec=frontcover&dq=great+snake+stories+vilela&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ozPeT-OjLYbq8wSTosH0Cg&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false
Here is an excerpt of one of the factual notes, to give you a feel of the sensory descriptive language Taylor uses:
The river is a great brown mirror. In it I can see the blue of the sky, the white of the clouds, and, far off, the green of the forest. Perhaps a quarter of all living species in the world live here in the Amazon. There are spiders as big as baseball caps. There are monkeys which weigh little more than chickens’ eggs. There are frogs which moo like cows. There are fish which jump two metres out of the water to snatch beetles off branches. There are butterflies so bright that you can see them a mile away.
Sometimes I think people here tell so many extraordinary stories because they are surrounded by so many extraordinary creatures. Sometimes I think it is because so much mystery lies in the water and the rainforest. (p. 12)
I especially appreciate the combination of factual information with stories from the people of the rain forest. A book which will help cultivate a sense of wonder.
For more great non-fiction recommendations, check out Nonfiction Monday.