February 06, 2024

This is a Tiny Fragile Snake

Written by Nicholas Ruddock
Illustrated by Ashley Barron
Groundwood Books
36 pp.
Ages 3+
February 2024
This is a Tiny Fragile Snake is a nature walk, a stroll through different habitats to see a variety of animals but observed through human eyes and through our interactions with them. Nicholas Ruddock, Guelph writer and physician, gives us the perspective of children as they take in a snake, a bear, a hummingbird, a caterpillar, and more as their worlds intersect with ours. In rhyming verse, Nicholas Ruddock lets us see something different along with these children.
From This is a Tiny Fragile Snake, written by Nicholas Ruddock, illustrated by Ashley Barron
The first poem is "Snake" which, while it mentions what the snake eats, is more about the children protecting the snake from being trampled by moving it to a safer place via a coffee cup. Children being benevolent is a theme that also shows up in the poem about the hummingbird that has its beak stuck in a window screen, and a caterpillar saved from a lawnmower, as well as a chipmunk being stalked by a tuxedo cat.
I plucked it from its blade of grass
and placed it on a tree,
and a week ago a butterfly
came by and danced for me. ("Caterpillar")
From This is a Tiny Fragile Snake, written by Nicholas Ruddock, illustrated by Ashley Barron
Some poems reflect how we feel about the animals highlighted, whether disgusted, scared, impressed or something completely different. "Ants" speaks to dissuading ants from ruining a picnic by offering some sugary treats some distance away. "Skunk" suggests to children that, while we might see a skunk as a stinky animal, perhaps the skunk sees us with disdain too. Whether it be hornets, a moose, herons, a red squirrel, or a finch, wasp, worms, or loon, Nicholas Ruddock reminds us that people have a relationship with other animals. This might be because we have imposed ourselves on their habitats, or because they have encroached on ours, but there is an interrelationship as our dynamic worlds merge and separate.
From This is a Tiny Fragile Snake, written by Nicholas Ruddock, illustrated by Ashley Barron
By showing young readers how our actions can impact other species, Nicholas Ruddock demonstrates how we can ensure that those actions are always positive or at least harmless. There is wisdom in getting a raccoon out of house or how to free a loon trapped in ice which is delivered with a gentle awe of these animals and how they behave. There is a respect for them that is both explicit and implicit.
It turned out we were helpless,
there was nothing we could do,
for there seemed a steady stream of them,
and we were only two. ("Hornets")
I've admired Ashley Barron's cut-paper collage illustrations in earlier books that she's illustrated for others (e.g., Up! How Families Around the World Carry Their Little Ones, Chaiwala!, and Granny Left Me a Rocket Ship) and I believe that the texturing that comes with her technique lends itself well to outdoor settings. Like leaves that layer and feathers and fur, scales and petals of texture, Ashley Barron's art is rich in depth and colour, giving a three-dimensionality to the landscapes and their animals.

While This is a Tiny Fragile Snake will entice readers, young and old, to find the poetry in nature and how we interact with it, the poems within also remind us how, when our worlds merge, we can ensure those interactions remain copacetic.
So we gave up, threw up our hands,
defeated by a pest,
and for the rest of summer
she was treated as a guest. ("Squirrel")

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