Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport


Written by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, Illustrated by Byron Barton

Simon & Schuster, 1980

I live at 165 East 95th Street, New York City, and I’m going to stay here forever.

Did You Know? A component of Gila monster venom is being studied for use in diabetes, because of the way it stimulates the secretion of insulin.

Our narrator’s parents are moving out west and he doesn’t want to go. He imagines that people in the west are all too busy chasing buffaloes to play and that there’s cactus everywhere. He thinks everyone will talk slowly and he’ll have to wear full cowboy gear and ride a horse to school every day. He worries that everyone becomes a sheriff when they grow up, which goes against his dream of being a subway driver. He knows he’ll miss his best friend, Seymour, and the salami sandwiches they share. Seymour told him that Gila monsters and horned toads meet you at the airport, but when they land, he doesn’t see any. He sees a boy in a cowboy hat at the airport who tells him he is moving east. The boy says he’s heard that the eastern streets are full of gangsters, it snows all the time, everyone lives on the 50th floor (where they dodge flying planes) and they ride to work on top of each other in the subway. The narrator and his parents head to their new home and along the way he sees kids playing baseball and a restaurant that looks like one back east. He plans to write a letter to Seymour about his new home.

Author Marjorie Weinman Sharmat has been writing children’s books almost as long as I’ve been alive, but she is probably best known for her Nate the Great series of chapter books. This one holds a pretty interesting (yet little known) distinction. It was the book chosen for the pilot episode of Reading Rainbow, even though it aired later (as Episode 8 of Season 1). The book is broken up into four mini-chapters, each at a different point in our narrator’s journey to his new home (anticipating, travelling, arriving and going to his new house) and you can see how his perception of his new home changes as he sees first the reality and then the incorrect ideas from the boy moving back east, which him question what he’s heard.

Out West

Epic airport showdown coming right up!

Illustrator Byron Barton published many books on his own, mostly in the early childhood/board book genre, featuring big blocky shapes and bold colors. In this book, the text is printed on the bottom of each page and the illustrations are in balloon shapes above it. The artwork shows us all the things that the narrator and the boy he meets at the airport are afraid of, which is fun to see. Mr. Barton manages to make them comical without a lot of exaggeration, since these kids really believe that what they’ve heard is true. It underscores the importance of teaching kids to not believe everything they hear, especially when what they hear is pretty far-fetched. There’s something about the artwork that makes the book feel a little dated, but overall, it’s a fun read with a good message.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that lots of what you hear isn’t really accurate, so it’s wise to get all the facts for yourself before making up your mind.


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