The Snail With the Right Heart: A True Story by Maria Popova,  illustrated by Ping Zhu


The Snail With the Right Heart: A True Story by Maria Popova, illustrated by Ping Zhu, Enchanted Lion, 9781592703494, 2021 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5+

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Picture book

What did you like about the book?  This lovely and informative picture book celebrates the rare life of Jeremy, a snail with a left-spiraling shell. Popova writes commentary for adults, so I was pleased and relieved to find that her prose also worked for younger readers. She starts with an introduction to evolution that puts Jeremy’s unlikely mutation and even his random discovery by a British scientist into context.  She gently and respectfully describes snails’ hermaphrodite nature and unusual reproductive process and follows the worldwide quest for a left-swirling mate. It’s a fascinating story and I loved that Popova managed to combine science and lyric sentences in a way that will invite questions and discussion. The book has a slightly melancholy air; Jeremy dies before “meeting” his offspring and none have his unusual mutation, but Popova takes the long view and imagines that somewhere down the genetic line, another rare left-spiraling snail will be born.

Zhu uses stunning watercolors for her illustrations. Every thick textured page is so supersaturated with hue that the pages still look damp.  Sometimes the art is quite representational, but other times the images are enlarged enough to become abstract. The snails themselves are well-suited to watercolor, with their dainty tentacles and shells built of overlapping swirls of pigment. One giant central trifold shows a colorful garden full of flowers; young readers can pour over it to find the snail. This is a philosophical and beautiful celebration of being different.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book?  This is an idiosyncratic story, but one I think many readers will enjoy. It’s not just for snail fans (and in fact, does not provide much basic snail information).  But as a contemplation of heredity and rarity, it’s quite remarkable. Children and adults age 6 and up can share this story — the text is dense, though short, so best as a read aloud in small groups.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? 572.86

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: April 3, 2021

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