Reptiles in library land

By Kris Ferrazza | Oct 22, 2019

Like the old song goes, “I don’t like spiders and snakes, and that ain’t what it takes to love me.”

Jim Stafford may have summed it up best in song, but last month I had to face my fears. I had made a deal with the devil and it was time to pay the piper.

All summer long, my students worked hard reading books and doing math. They did it for the love of learning, but also because their parents and teachers, myself included, encouraged them. On top of that, I made a big, fat promise at the end of the school year.

“There is going to be a big surprise for the kids who study over the summer,” I announced. As if that wasn’t enough, I bragged, “And trust me, you do not want to miss it. This is going to be awesome.”

I could see the wheels turning in their little heads as they imagined the most outrageous things.

“Is it Tom Brady?” one guessed. “Is Tom Brady coming to our school?”

Wow, these kids came to play.

“Well, no, it isn’t Tom Brady, but it’s almost as awesome as that,” I promised. “I am talking awe-some.”

A kindergartner asked if we were going to outer space. A first-grader begged for unicorns. I’m not going to lie, with the bar set this high, I started to worry. Is this really what it takes to impress kids today?

So I left it vague, but assured them they were going to want to be there. So study they did. They showed up in September with their reading logs jammed full of scribbled book titles, author names, page numbers and reading times documented down to the minute. Little math whizzes had online proof of the time they had spent on board the struggle bus, doing word problems while their friends biked, swam and Fortnight-ed their days away.

These kids deserved a reward, and it had to be good. Since I was the one who had promised the biggest, best surprise of all time, I had to think big. In the past we had played games in the gym and on the playground, eaten ice cream sandwiches, showered them with certificates of accomplishment, praise from the principal and book fair money. But all that seemed to pale in comparison to what I had pledged.

As I wracked my brain for a new idea, it hit me. What do children ages five to thirteen love more than anything? (Aside from TB12, space and unicorns?) Bugs! Big bugs. Snakes! Big snakes. And reptiles. The bigger the better.

In short order I had a reptile educator on the calendar for my top-secret assembly. He had a large array of creepy, crawly critters. I took a leap of faith and trusted this man to be almost as awesome as Tom Brady.

As the big day approached, the assembly started to haunt my dreams. In one nightmare, he showed up with only a Tupperware container filled with cockroaches and turned them loose. I woke in a cold sweat. Another night, I tossed and turned then dreamed he brought a huge snake into my library. It escaped into the ductwork, never to be heard from again. Shivers.

By the time the day arrived, I was ready to put it all behind me. 80 children were begging for details. Don’t ask me how, but the entire school staff (and Parent Teacher Organization) kept it a secret. We set up the library and waited. When my buddy showed up, I was not disappointed. He rolled in, literally, with a broad grin and an assortment of plastic totes, bins, baskets, and - yes, Tupperware - that was teeming with life.

“Are those cockroaches?” I asked, pointing at the Tupperware. They were.

As he unpacked his wares, I started to wonder if I had made a big mistake. I could see something massive slithering inside one large tote tucked away in the picture book section. A large wicker basket sat ominously atop everything else, which prompted me to look around for a bamboo flute that might be used to summon the serpent. If this man was a snake charmer, and there was a cobra in that basket, I didn’t know if I could resist the urge to flee.

A teacher friend helped me set up chairs and when we finished, I spied a massive hairy spider in one container.

“Don’t tell me that’s what I think it is,” I said, eyeing the tarantula.

“Yup, that’s Rosie,” he said, immediately taking the lid off the tote. I drew in my breath and took two giant steps back as fear rose in my chest. My friend said she’d always wanted to meet a tarantula, and stepped forward. Phew. Better her than me. He gently placed the fuzzy beast into her cupped hands.

“She’s soft,” my friend said. I forced a smile.

Turns out he also had a black widow, scorpion, snapping turtle and tortoise. There was a giant lizard called a tegu and a nine-foot boa constrictor. Perhaps most astonishing to the children were the hissing cockroaches from Madagascar, which were not only as big as your thumb, but apparently tasty. Our speaker popped one into his mouth, bringing gasps and peals of laughter from students and staff. (He didn’t eat it.)

The children and adults were entertained, educated and completely flabbergasted by the assembly. When he walked through the crowd with his creatures, the excitement was palpable. After half an hour, it was time to see what was in that wicker basket. I secretly fretted.

With an air of showmanship, he finally removed the lid, then looked around.

“Uh oh. Where’d she go?” he deadpanned.

My heart sank, then I heard his laugh. He unwound a blue sack and out came the boa constrictor. There was no flute and no dance, but make no mistake about it, this man was a snake charmer. He worked the crowd with that snake coiled around his neck and arms, then invited everyone to give it a pat.

Most every child did. A few didn’t. One hyperventilated. I steered clear.

The smiles and sheer delight I saw on the faces of the people in that room made it all worthwhile. I’m certain the children felt well rewarded for their summer study, and it made my apprehensions and nightmares a distant memory.

Once he had packed up and wheeled his creatures out the front door, I breathed a sigh of relief. Looking around, the library was quiet, almost too quiet. Just to be safe, I checked the picture book section. Nothing. But two weeks later, that ductwork still taunts me.

And the beat goes on.

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