Monday, January 10, 2011

What's a Barking Spider?

Since it was first released eleven years ago, I've had many people ask me where I got the name for my first children's book, "Barking Spiders (and Other Such Stuff)". Some have even taken the name literally and asked what kind of a spider a barking spider is. Do you find them in Africa, or are they Australian or maybe from South America? Do they make noise like a dog? How big is a barking spider? Are they hard to kill? Are they poisonous?

Before I tell them, I make a few quick jokes first, teasing just a little bit.

Q: What kind of a spider is a barking spider?
A: Oh, you would know one, if you heard one. It's nearly impossible not to hear them.
Q: Where do you find barking spiders?
A: Oh my, you mean you don't have any barking spiders at your house? They're not limited to any particular country or even region. They're everywhere! I would venture to say everyone has them sometimes.
Q: Do they make noise like a dog?
A: (giggle) I suppose some do, or at least some can.
Q: How big is a barking spider"
A: Some are so big that you send your child (or your husband) to his room.
Q: Are they hard to kill?
A: Not at all, but it takes a lot of personal control. Sometimes you're forced to just leave the room.
Q: Are they poisonous?
A: Oh God, yes! Some are so bad, you think you'll die!

When I do an author school visit, I routinely ask the children if they know what a barking spider is. Almost always, there is one little girl or boy whose hand goes up, down, then up again. That's what I'm looking for ... of course I always call on them.

Me: "Do you know what a barking spider is?"

Child: "Well-l-l-l, I know what my dad says it is ... but it CAN'T be THAT!"

I suppose there are some of you reading this who still don't know what a barking spider really is yet. I think I'll tell you the story behind it as a way of explaining it.

When my three daughters were small, we had driven from New Hampshire to Ohio to visit family. While we were there, we went to see my youngest brother, Chip, and his wife, Sue, at their home.

Chip, the girls and I were all sitting on the floor playing Chutes and Ladders, a children's board game. About midway through the game, my oldest daughter, who was about seven, passed some gas. She was embarrassed and immediately put her hands over her eyes and apologized. I was about to tell her it was all right, when my brother jumped up and yelled to Sue in the kitchen, "Sue! Grab the can of Raid under the sink! Hurry! We've got a barking spider hiding in here somewhere!"

The girls and I looked at each other and started to laugh -- that big gut-wrenching laughter -- I mean to tell you, complete and total hilarity broke out in that room! The kind of laughing where you're almost done and just thinking about it makes it start all over again! The kind of uncontrollable laughter where you have to hold your sides because they hurt so bad!

Okay, I told you that, so I could tell you this. That happened in about 1981. Years later, when Chip turned forty, Sue had a surprise over-the-hill birthday party for him. I wasn't able to get to his party from New Hampshire, so I wrote "Barking Spiders" as a gag gift for Chip. I told Sue to please have Chip read the poem out loud to all of the attendees ... I know, I can be a real booger ... but I'm his oldest sister and he loves me (giggle).

... now do you know what a barking spider is? Awww, I guess you'll have to wait for the sequel, "Barking Spiders Too."

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