Once I Knew a Spider


books in print

  original art & portraits

giclee' prints

"May I help you find a book?"  










































               Observing and Living with Nature

      A story of a young family, the birth of their first child, and their sharing
the seasons  with a garden spider. 

     A journey through the cycles of life, as a young mother introduces her daughter to the life a spider and the wonders of nature. The connections of ecology with a home and garden grows as the story progresses.

    This story reveals the exceptional magic in the everyday world
and how it can touch our lives.


"My husband came to look"                                               " Come see !" I called.



            " Then I held my baby up to see,"          " The mother spider's spirit continued on."


               Reviews of Once I Knew A Spider

"A pregnant woman observes an ordinary orb-weaver spider in her window and comes to respect the spider as she awaits the birth of her child. This spider survives the winter (which most orb-weavers do not), and the new mother introduces her baby to the spider, giving readers the wonderful message that this child will always be exposed to the workings of the natural world. Cassels' gouache paintings, set in the Southwest, reveal nature's magic in the closeup shots of the spider at work; endpapers show newly hatched spiders floating on strands of silk. Like Charlotte's Web ( a logical next reading choice) this special book goes far in debunking the myth of the scary spider. Author's note appended." — Booklist

"Dewey 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 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." — Kirkus Reviews

"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 eloquent meditation on the cycle of life. The muted tones of
Cassel 's 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 two mothers yields a surprising poignancy. Cassel 's compositions similarly connect their shared experience—even the baby's spring-green shirt echoes the color of the foliage behind the web." — Publishers Weekly

"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....[T]he spider and her web-wrapped victims are eye-catching and realistic. This would be a fine choice for elementary science classes." — School Library Journal