Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for May: (5/4) Linda Norlander, (5/11) Connie Berry, (5/18) Mary Keliikoa, (5/22) Annette Dashofy, and (5/25) Rosalie Spielman.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Snakes in the Library

In addition to presenting story times, answering Google-proof research questions, and practicing the dangerous art of readers advisory, during the summer the children’s librarian also adds hosting programs to the to-do list. When school gets out, libraries crank into high gear with shows and programs to entice families to visit and, perhaps, decide to get a library card and check out some books.

Photo by Reptiles Alive
Programs I’ve hosted have ranged from opera, theater, and mythology to Twilight and basketball. I’ve mixed potions, folded origami, and blown stuff up. This past week the wheel of fate spun and I was assigned the Reptiles Alive! show. Lucky me! I like reptiles as much as I like spiders and dishonest politicians and their lovesick spouses.

However, Fate was in a good mood and gave me one of the most talented and charismatic performers I’ve seen in years.
Caroline and B. A.

Before a capacity crowd of eager kids and somewhat less than eager parents, Caroline, the owner of Reptiles Alive, took charge. The petite blonde combined the knowledge of a scientist, the patter of a Borscht belt comedian, and the excitement of a ten year old on a dirt bike into one dynamic package. Plus, she understood her audience. “Once I held up a lizard and it peed on my head,” she shared, to delighted shrieks from the crowd.

Caroline introduced us to a parade of scaly creatures, many of which seemed less than thrilled about being pulled from their comfy, soundproofed boxes.

“Now, this is B. A.” She held up an American alligator, twenty pounds of writhing, pissed off muscle. “B.A. stands for Bad Attitude,” she said as she coolly held the thrashing creature. B.A. was found in a hotel bathtub, abandoned by a pet owner who had somehow not realized that illegal baby alligators grow into illegal adult alligators. Now B. A. has an hour commute and must perform for young shrieking humans. My heart thawed (very slightly) toward the miniature Godzilla, once unwanted and unloved, who looked like he’d happily stomp all of us on his way back to Florida.

Oohs and aahs greeted Sunflower, a ten-foot-long albino boa constrictor, and a respectful hush fell at the appearance of the grande dame, Janis, a spectacularly large and old leopard tortoise.

Many performers must reach to work a bit of library love into their acts. Not Caroline.

“You know how I got into reptiles?” she asked the crowd.
“You picked them up outside?”
“You went to the zoo?”
“You saw one on TV?”
“Nope, my love of reptiles started at the library!” Caroline explained that her grandfather took her to the library when she was two. There she stumbled upon a book on snakes and an animal show superstar was born. Caroline’s eyes glowed. “I read everything about snakes, then frogs, and lizards. Then I studied. And I kept learning, taking out more and more books from the library. If you want to learn more about reptiles, or anything really, go to the library and get a book!”

Caroline was making friends with the library lady in the back of the room.

Caroline continued, telling the crowd why the Internet is not the best place for information about animals and animal care, especially for misunderstood creatures like reptiles. She said that the Internet is full of websites that are misleading. Many people post opinions or urban legends about reptiles that spread misinformation that makes people fear these creatures.

“A librarian can help you find information that is reliable,” Caroline said, cementing her place as my favorite summer performer of 2014.

Have you ever had a dreaded event turn into an unexpected pleasure?


E. B. Davis said...

An unexpected pleasure? Not really. I've experienced "not as bad as I thought."

I must admit, Shari, I hate reptiles. Here on Hatteras, there are alligators. Someone said they were gone, but a friend of mine was taking a walk with her husband and saw tracks. They ran. I've seen photos of the alligators.

I have nightmares of having a grandchild (not yet born) out on a walk and being attacked by an alligator. In fact, I'm thinking about getting a "Judge," which can shoot bullets or shot. There are cottonmouth here, too! I really hate reptiles, and I remain unapologetic. When people hold reptiles I often wonder if they are giving children the wrong impression. These are dangerous animals that can kill.

Glad you had a great program. I would have left. Sorry!

Shari Randall said...

I know what you mean, EB, I don't understand the appeal for some folks. But I learned that most reptiles just want to be left alone - they are more scared of us than we are of them.
Though I am not sure I believe that of alligators. In Hatteras?? That's too close for comfort!

Warren Bull said...

I learned a valuable lesson from a rattlesnake once. I was hiking with a friend and we violated the snake's space. My knees buckled, I fell to my butt and slid downhill. After that when presented with issues that had seemed like gigantic problems I thought to myself, "If i fail will I get bitten and die?" The answers were always "No." The gigantic problems shrunk to issue level.

KM Rockwood said...

Sounds like a great program at the library. And it should teach kids respect for the animals.

We have a lot of copperheads around here. Once, my dog proudly brought me one. He had picked it up just behind the head, so it couldn't bite him, but the problem was how to get it put down again safely. Fortunately, he was a very obedient dog, and he had a "drop it" command. I put his leash on, told him to "drop it" and yanked him away. The snake slithered off into the brush.

Jim Jackson said...

I have a healthy respect for reptiles. The last time I was bitten by a snake was when I picked up a garter snake to show to my kids and didn't grab it close enough to its head. It arched its "neck" and bit me on the wrist.

The kids got great looks of the snake and after I released him, I washed off the blood in the lake.

Up north we have no venomous snakes. In the south we have plenty, plus alligators. I figure I can watch through binocs and see everything just fine and we don't need to get closer than that,

~ Jim

Shari Randall said...

Warren, that's a good lesson to keep in mind!
KM - I hope I never run into a copperhead - and I am glad you managed to get your dog safely away from his catch.
Jim - Yikes! I have to say that I'd pick a snake over a gator any day. And I love Hatteras but after hearing from EB that gators are there hmmmm….maybe a beach further north!

carla said...

I loved how the snake lady endorsed the library! Very cool.
Not cool: we now have an alligator in MY LAKE. Scary. I want to have a more accepting attitude but frankly, I want him GONE.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Love it, Shari! Libraries and librarians rock!

Gloria Alden said...

Love it, Shari. At least every few years or so someone would come to our school to show us snakes, etc. Once it was the parent of one of my students who brought a boa in. Yes, I always held it if they asked. We've never had poisonous snakes in our area, so I've never been afraid of them In fact, when I was a kid, I used to chase the boys with them. Would I want one as a pet? No. I prefer them outside where they can take care of bugs and small rodents, and I want nothing to do with alligators at all. Thank goodness they don't live in the north.

My first encounters with rattlesnakes were when I was backpacking. The first one was in PA - a huge one that had just eaten by the size of the bulge in its middle. My sister and I watched it until it slithered off the forest road into the ferns. The 2nd time was on an extremely hot day along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. I was out of water and heading down a trail towards a stream. I encountered my sister sitting on a rock who said we couldn't go any further because a rattlesnake was on the trail. I was very hot, very thirsty, and determined that snake was not going to keep me from water. I approached it stomping my feet and pounding the ground with my walking stick - snakes can't hear, but the do feel vibrations. It rattled it's tail and refused to leave. One side of the trail went up steeply and the other downhill. I wasn't going to go up or down, and the snake eventually slithered a little way downhill still rattling its tail as I went by heading for the stream and water.

Shari Randall said...

Carla - Oh. My. God. If I lived there I'd be hiring an alligator wrangler to come and get it. Keep us posted!
Paula - Yes, the library love was great - and unexpected. Caroline was one very cool wildlife expert.
Gloria - I am never surprised by your cool headed approach to animals!

Kara Cerise said...

I can just imagine the shrieks of the kids when they saw the animals.

What stuff have you blown up in the library, Shari?

I had one experience that I thought would end badly, but surprised me. My family and I were visiting my sister-in-law in a small East Texas town and I had the “great” idea that we should walk through some old buildings in the Civic Center area. We went into the courthouse and I was fascinated by the inlaid floor depicting an historical event with galloping horses. My mother-in-law and I walked up a few flights to a balcony overlooking the rotunda floor. I leaned over the edge and aimed my camera with its large telephoto attachment and took several pictures. The sheriff walked over and said, “Ma’am, you do know it’s illegal to take photos inside a government building, right?” I told him that I had forgotten but I liked the artwork on the floor. He then said, “I’m taking you to see the judge.” Yikes. My mother-in-law gave me that why-did-my-son-marry-you look and off we marched. Well, it turned out the judge also taught history. After the family joined us in the judge’s chambers, he told us many colorful stories about East Texas and showed us his collection of helmets from college football teams. He said that I was welcome to visit anytime and read through his historical files. We all had a fun and memorable time.

Shari Randall said...

Oh,Kara, I am glad you got a happy ending! Sounds like a cool place.
All of the explosions were of the very controlled, soda bottle, balloon or liquid nitrogen type.(But were still lots of fun)