“Beautiful … profound … transformative”— heady praise for How to be a Good Creature from the folks at the Today Show. Check out the other great books they recommend, too.
The Good Good Pig is still winning friends. His memoir – as grunted and snuffled to Sy – is now in its 20th printing. There are more than 117,000 copies of the paperback in print.
Sy was a guest again on one of her favorite radio broadcasts, Living on Earth. She was discussing the wonderful stories she chose for Best Science and Nature Writing 2019. Here’s the link to the whole show. (All the stories well worth listening to.)
Octovision. The folks at CBS Sunday Morning are the latest to be charmed by Octopuses:
“Chip Reid visits scientists at New England Aquarium in Boston, and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., and talks with Sy Montgomery, author of “The Soul of an Octopus,” about these curious creatures.” Catch the January 12 show here.
OctoDay-by-OctoDay. Wisconsin Public Radio is reading The Soul of an Octopus – the entire book – on their show Chapter a Day.
The Soul of an Octopus has returned to The New York Times Bestseller List! The Octo was swimming at #11 on January 5, and #13 on January 12 on the nonfiction paperback list. A lot of folks must have found Sy’s octo book under their tree this Christmas – or stuffed in eight Christmas stockings.
“Remember back when we were all tubes? Sy Montgomery does.” Sy talks with Leslie Crawford of Truthout about our octopus relatives, and the future of the imperiled earth.
“We are on the cusp of either destroying this sweet, green Earth — or revolutionizing the way we understand the rest of animate creation,” says. “It’s an important time to be writing about the connections we share with our fellow creatures. It’s a great time to be alive.”
And those tubes who are our ancestors? Sy says: “That was a simpler time, eons before the octopus and Homo sapiens went their separate evolutionary ways, and certainly long before that highly intelligent cephalopod, which appeared some 300 million years ago, ended up boiled, stewed and fried. Our lineage goes back a half-billion years ago when everyone was a tube. That was when there were no eyes. Yet we have evolved almost identical eyes. I just love that.” Read the interview.
That Octo story never sleeps. Sy’s story for Orion magazine — back in 2011 — is listed as #1 on Orion magazine’s Top 25 Most-Read Articles of the Decade. The rest of the list is worth investigating.
Octo-Brits. Episode 3 of BBC’s fantastic Earth Podcast explores the senses.Sy talks about touch, and those many-armed masters of touch, octopuses. That’s first up, but be sure to listen to composer Hans Zimmer and soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause speaking about sound. Listen here: http://aca.st/39ce2e
Sy is thrilled that these great kids from her dear friend Joel Glick’s class at Atlantic Bilingual School in Honduras are reading Journey of the Pink Dolphins. She can’t wait to Skype with them when Christmas break is over. Their teacher, Joel, says, “We cannot thank you enough for this generous donation. They are working really hard reading and interpreting your amazing book.”
Good Gnus: The Magnificent Migration: On Safari with Africa’s Last Great Herd is one of Booklist’s “Best of 2019” books.
Honor and glory to wildebeests! Thank you,Washington Post, for choosing The Magnificent Migration as one of the top books for children of the year.
A tale of two Franklins
Sy was greeted by a library full of little octopuses at the Franklin Elementary School in Keene, New Hampshire…
… And on the other side of the country in Port Angeles, Washington, the 5th grade in the Franklin Elementary School there sent these wonderful thank you notes after Sy’s visit.
Kate Missett, a columnist for the Wymong Eagle Tribune wrote this recently about Sy:
I have a friend I’ve never met in person. She is one of my dearest friends, and would immediately fit in with all my friends in Cheyenne. I began corresponding with her four years ago, via email, and something just clicked between us.
She is Sy Montgomery, a New York Times bestselling author. She writes about wild, and not so wild, animals, and travels all over the world to do so. Her best seller about her pet pig, Christopher Hogwood, who grew to over 700 lbs., is hilarious and endearing. Reading The Good, Good Pig was probably sufficient unto itself, but I was highly motivated to continue reading Sy’s books.
I cannot remember the order in which I read them, but my two favorite books by Sy are Journey of the Pink Dolphins and Spell of the Tiger.
The pink dolphins live in the mysterious Amazon River, which is actually two rivers that don’t combine; one is brown and one is blue. There is a high degree of mythology which the people who live beside the river impart to the pink dolphins. It is said they take on the form of a man and join humans along the riverbank, seducing a woman and taking her to live with them under the water. That’s a dizzily marvelous piece of mythology; it would be wonderful to know how it came to be. Do people from the villages actually disappear?
At the end of this book, Sy actually got to swim with the dolphins at the mouth of the Amazon River. I told her that the book should have ended with her permanently swimming with them, and she said that if the book is ever made into a movie that is the way she imagines ending it, too!
Spell of the Tiger is terrifying–and funny, too. The subtitle is The Man-Eaters of Sundarbans. Sundarbans is the largest tidal delta in the world. From Wikipedia, I learned the following:
The Sundarbans is a mangrove area in the delta formed by the confluence of Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers in the Bay of Bengal. It spans from the Hooghly River in India’s state of West Bengal to the Baleswar River n Bangladesh. It comprises closed and open mangrove forests, agriculturally used land, mudflats and barren land, and is intersected by multiple tidal streams and channels.
It is here that tigers hunt and kill people, not just on land but in the water as well.
I said that the book is funny, too. It is undoubtedly a conundrum that a book about man-eating tigers could be funny, but the red tape Sy encountered in getting access to the Sundarbans reminded me of Major Major in the book and movie Catch 22. The “catch” was that if someone went to Major Major’s office, and Major Major was in his office, the person wanting to see him was told that the Major was out. If Major was out of his office, the person was told he was in. And that’s what the bureaucracy in Calcutta was like for Sy and her companion. After waiting for hours to meet someone in the Forestry Department, they were finally “seen” by someone who totally ignored them and read a newspaper instead.
It struck me as funny and I felt guilty for laughing about a passage in a book about man-eating tigers. Sy assured me it was meant to be funny and that she was glad I “got” it.
But I didn’t really get the gist of the book until weeks later. It was one of those “aha” moments! I recently gave a copy of this book to a friend to see if he would also find the hidden message of this book. It’s not a spoiler for you to know it ahead of time, but it is a magnificent reward to find it yourself. If you really want to know what it is before you read the book, email me and I’ll tell you the message.
It took me years to find this soul mate of mine, but we travelled along similar paths, although mine was through books and hers was through doing. Years before I met Sy through her books, we both developed a love for octopuses. I bought a paperback book about these gentle, intelligent creatures only to find out that Sy had written a blurb for its hardback edition and knew the author. I bought another book about Kanzi, the bonobo chimp who taught himself how to verbally interact with people using symbols, and told Sy about it; she replied that she knew all about Kanzi.
She is friendly and witty and funny. I also have a preoccupation with spiders (I had a cat-faced spider living above my backdoor all last summer), and I jokingly said to Sy, “What are the odds? Spiders and octopuses?” She replied, “I’d say about 8 to 1!”
I have tried and failed to meet with her, but I may have another opportunity in June when I travel with a friend who is attending a college reunion. The reunion is in Middlebury, Vermont, and Sy lives in Hancock, New Hampshire, a distance of less than 150 miles. Even if all I get to do is hug her while crying tears of joy to be finally meeting her in person, the extra miles will be worth it.
Sy sends a big eight-armed hug to the octo-stylin’ librarians of the North Olympic Library system. Thanks for your tentacular outfits, fantastic decorations, and for amassing crowds of avid readers to celebrate octopus friends. Sy visited three fantastic libraries in Port Angeles, Sequim, and Forks, and the wonderful students at Quileute Tribal School in La Push.
The North Olympic Library System embraces The Soul of an Octopus. Sy spoke with 300 fifth graders from five schools at the Port Angeles Public Main Library where sea art greeted her.
Bestseller. The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019, guest edited by Sy, hit three regional indie bestseller lists its first week out this year: Pacific Northwest, Southern California, and the South.
* Booklist has given The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019, guest edited by Sy, a starred review in their October 1 issue, saying: “The works in this annual anthology are lyrical, emotional, moving, and insightful—proof that long-form science journalism boasts some of our best writers …. These pieces challenge us to look deeper and to understand better, to see the beating human heart in the soul of science.”
* Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colorado is celebrating its 35th year as a vibrant, thoughtful independent bookstore by listing their favorite books of the last 35 years. The Soul of an Octopus is on it, as well as many other excellent books. Check out the list.
Noble Dreams is a new podcast that charts “a world of exploration, invitation, conversation, nearly pure imagination, musication.” Sy enjoyed her talk with Noah Chute. Listen here.
Missed out on rats who peek-a-boo and roosters who cock-a-doodle-doo? Here’s the link to Jim Braude and Margery Eagan’s midday talk show on WGBH radio last Wednesday. The Afternoon Zoo — that’s Sy of course — starts at 1:58:39
The thoughts of a fish. The Soul of an Octopus. Sy joined her friend Jonathan Balcombe, author of What A Fish Knows on WWDB’s radioshow, The Other Animals. Listen to a podcast of the show here.
Sy Montgomeryova returns to the Czech Republic. A new Czech translation of The Soul of an Octopus (above) will join the 2001 translation of Journey of the Pink Dolphins. The Czech title is Do Octopuses Have a Soul?
Earlier this year Sy had the great pleasure and challenge of selecting stories for The Best American Science and Writing 2019. In advance of its October publication, Publishers Weekly has given the anthology a good review:
Naturalist Montgomery (How to Be a Good Creature) emphasizes a sense of wide-eyed wonder in this enjoyable anthology. Included are topical pieces such as Linda Villarosa’s investigation into African-American infant mortality rates and Rebecca Mead’s report on a transgender woman undergoing facial surgery. But overall, this collection of 26 essays—from such publications as the Atlantic, Atlas Obscura, the New Yorker, and Pacific Standard—is less concerned with the hot-button issues, such as the rise of artificial intelligence, much discussed in contemporary science writing. There are stories about catching insects in Denmark, tracing hydrocarbon gasses at ancient oracle sites in and near Greece, and hunting down the elusive forms of life in Chile’s Atacama Desert. Often the writing strikes a personal, emotional note: Conor Gearin muses about his upcoming marriage while walking in Iowa’s Hitchcock Nature Center, and Molly Osberg tells of her near-fatal experience with a rare form of strep. Endangered animals (vaquita porpoises in the Gulf of California, right whales in Cape Cod Bay, and rhinos in Cincinnati Zoo) also claim much of the contributors’ attehttp://bit.ly/cw_MagMigrationntion. Readers in need of some substantive escapism will appreciate this offering of the previous year’s finest science and nature writing.
Sy enjoyed talking about The Magnificent Migration with BYU radio. Listen here.
The Unleashed Octopus. Sy loved talking about octos with Creta Pullen and Amanda Eichstaedt, hosts of “Off Leash” on KWMR radio in West Marin, California. Listen here. Sy’s interview starts 1:01:25.
These signs are at the Los Angeles Zoo:
The Chinese edition of How to be a Good Creature is out.
Talkin’ Critters. Sy enjoyed talking to Laura Knoy on NHPR. Listen here or read the transcript.
Good Creature gets the IMAX treatment. Sy spoke about her book at the New England Aquarium’s IMAX theater. Watch her talk here.
Inky’s Amazing Escape has been nominated for a Ladybug Picture Book Award, at the Center for the Book at the New Hampshire State Library.
The further – further — adventures of Heidi, the best friend of turtles everywhere. Heidi, age 10, has raised another $800 for sea turtle rescue and rehab. (See the entry below in August and September 2018 when she raised $1500.) Heidi loves sea turtles. She’s upset that we don’t treat turtles better. When she talks we all listen. Heidi and her oldest sister Lilly (and Mom, Dad and Sy) went to the New England Aquarium to present a check to the aquarium’s veterinarian Dr. Charlie Innis. Heidi & Co. were received like royalty and allowed behind-the-scenes visits with an octopus, snakes and other good creatures.
The Gnu Crew, (almost) all together again: Roger Wood, Dick Estes, Sy, Logan Wood and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas celebrated Sy’s new book The Magnificent Migration at The Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough, New Hampshire, Saturday. Thanks to the more than 100 friends who joined us. And to the woman in the background whose hard work is its own Gnu Testament, Runi Estes. (Photo by Lysa Leland.)
Beeindruckend! Sy’s book, Vom Magischen Leuchten des Glühwürmchens bei Mitternacht —From the Magical Glow of Fireflies at Midnight, the retitled German edition of The Wild Out Your Window, is shortlisted for a German Science Book of the Year Prize. If you want to vote for it, here’s the website.
Talking about Good Creatures. Sy thanks Heather Goldstone, for her wonderful conversations with guests on Living Lab radio on WGBH yesterday! Folks can hear the whole show here. Sy joins the show at the 34.49 mark. And she also enjoyed talking about the book on WBYU in Utah.
Shark Fever: The Lore of the Great White. Fear of sharks spiked last summer on Cape Cod after a great white shark fatally bit a 26-year-old surfer. While we have a higher risk of getting hit by lightning than killed by a great white shark, people are agitated about sharks. On the Colin McEnroe show, Sy joins George Burgess, Director Emeritus, Florida Program for Shark Research and Curator Emeritus of the International Shark Attack File, and Greg Johnson, a teacher, musician and lifeguard at Nauset Beach in Orleans, Mass. Listen here.
Sy’s friend Snowball The Dancing Cockatoo is in the news.
Happy BioBlitz Birthday, E. O. Wilson. (His real birthday was June 10.) Get a load of that cake: the one time you put an ant on a cake on purpose. Thank you to all who organized yesterday’s celebration, especially BioBlitz founder, author, naturalist Peter Alden – -and thank you Lysa Leland for these great photos.
Hyena Defenders. Is The Lion King fair to hyenas? To ask the question is to answer it. Reporter Jimmy Gutierrez, a friend of all hyenas everywhere, asks Sy to examine Disney’s dissing of hyenas. Listen here around the 10-minute mark.
Sy has just learned the audiobook she read for How to be a Good Creature won an Audiobook Earphone Award — back in January! Many thanks to Kenny Pappaconstantinou at Elephant Audiobooks who did the recording.
Sy is in Ecuador with Deb and Patrick Joyce, meeting pelicans, frigate birds and blue footed boobies above, sea turtles, butterfly fish and mobula rays below, and dolphins on the surface between. They are working on a new book about the scientists who study manta rays. (Thank you for the photos, Patrick.)
Sy enjoyed talking about How to Be a Good Creature with Marcus Smith, host of Constant Wonder on BYU radio. Listen here.
For the hate of dogs. We treat pet dogs with such sentimentality while their wild, endangered relatives are feared and persecuted. Why? Read Sy’s article on wild dholes in Aeon.
Summer, “the season of beach days and barbecues, kayaking and catnapping, hammocks and homemade popsicles. Maybe you’ll be headed to the lake or a tucked-away cottage, even a tent pitched in the backyard. Wherever you go, go prepared. Sunscreen is a must. Bottles of water essential. And never, ever forget to bring a book,” says The New York Times. And one of those books, says the Times, should be How to be a Good Creature.
Sy recently visited the year-old Matschie’s tree kangaroo, Ecki, who was born at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Thanks, Lisa Dabek, for introducing Sy, and to Ecki’s wonderful keepers, too.
Sy is honored to have been chosen by Antioch New England’s Environmental Studies Department as the winner of this year’s Environmental Excellence Award. Sy thanked Antioch’s students and teachers for all they do for the environment. You can watch the short video.
Thank you, young readers of Everett, WA, for such a fun morning talking about animals at your fabulous library (with its awesome fish tank).
Two German magazines are out with stories about Sy’s visit:
Up Next: Manta Rays. In June Sy will be joining an expedition off Peru which is studying these beautiful creatures.
Three cities in three days! Highlights of Sy’s German book tour included meeting and following rheas (yes, rheas– giant flightless birds from South America!) who live wild just outside city limits of Lubek; attending the largest literature festival in Europe, LitCologne, with mystery writer Donna Leon, where 700 attended our reading; and hanging out with Donna and bovine, caprine and equine fans for a photo shoot for Stern magazine.
Another boon from Sy’s recent tour in Germany: celebrating publication of yet another of her books in German translation. The Curious Naturalist: Nature’s Everyday Mysteries has become The Magic Glow of Fireflies at Midnight with fresh, new art by Tine Pagenberg.
How to be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals has been selected as a notable book in the children’s category of the 2018 Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award. Since 1991 this award has honored the legacy of Sigurd Olson, who attended Northland College and is the namesake of the College’s environmental institute, by recognizing writers who seek to carry on his tradition of nature writing.
Sy’s favorite bookstore is nearby. The Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough, N.H., is a thriving independent bookstore. Sy loves to read at the Toadstool because there will be a large turnout and thoughtful questions.
Willard Williams, who opened the Toadstool in 1972, told the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript in an interview about the many writers who have visited his store:
Q: Over the years, what was the most memorable speaker and how did the audience respond to them?
A: I don’t want to slight anybody who didn’t, but certainly our most successful ones were Howard Mansfield and Sy Montgomery. They’re a couple who live in Hancock, and they’ve each written different kinds of books. Both of them, they’re lots of fun and lots of people come to hear them, too. They give great presentations….
Thank you Willard for such a vibrant, important part of our community.
The “creature a l’intelligence extraordinaire.” The paperback of the French edition will be published in April.
Thank you Donna Leon. The author of the bestselling and beloved Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series is a fan of The Soul of an Octopus. For the German edition, she said: “Fantastic animal, fantastic book.” And in the New York Times Book Review she said that Sy’s octopus book is “a dream.”
Inky’s Amazing Escape: How a Very Smart Octopus Found His Way Home has been nominated for a Black-Eyed Sysan Book Award by the Maryland Association of School Librarians.
The Hyena Scientists has been selected as a finalist for the 2019 Animal Behavior Society’s Outstanding Children’s Book Award. Children will review the finalists and choose a winner.
What do Animals Think and Feel? Sy joined a panel of experts on The Agenda, a Canadian current affairs program that tackles big issues each week. Watch it here.
As someone who travels a great deal, and has gotten lost more than she’d like, Sy was rooting for Huck, a small steer, just a week old, to find his way out of the woods. Huck’s Way Home is a charming illustrated children’s book by Kristina Rodanas about Huck’s adventures on his journey back to the Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Vermont. Welcome home Huck.
In his day Christopher Hogwood loved to bust out of his pen and see the neighborhood. That pig is still travelling. The Good Good Pig – which stars Mr. Hogwood – is now in its 19th printing. There are more than 115,000 copies of the paperback in print.
Tamed and Untamed is included in a recently published wiki: Works of Non-Fiction That Are Perfect for Animal Lovers. Take a look at the books on the list here. “Founded in 2011, Ezvid Wiki was the world’s first video wiki, and is now among the top 3,000 websites in the United States,” say the folks at this Wiki.
Go Team Hyena. The Hyena Scientist has been selected as an American Library Association Notable Book.
Sy enjoyed talking to John Klyce on his recent podcast Lending Nature a Hand. Listen here.
Sy is back from “the land where deer bark and dogs whistle.” Read about her time at the Earthwatch research site in Thailand. And check out those sporty leech socks that Sy and her fellow researchers are wearing. (And note this sockless dhole.)
How to Be a Good Creature is number 8 on the Boston Globe Bestseller list.
With some new translations soon to be published, The Soul of an Octopus will be available in 13 languages, including, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Romanian, Bulgarian, Polish, Russian, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese.
Watching Wolves. Everyone has a favorite animal. John’s favorite is the wolf. He tells Sy that you can learn about wolves by watching their wolf ways here. Thank you John and your teacher, Rachel Martin, for this suggestion.
Besties. How to Be a Good Creature is on these lists of the best books of 2018: Brain Pickings, Good Morning America, The Washington Post, PRI’s Living on Earth, Brain Pickings, BookPage, The Fold Magazine, BookRiot (best book covers), Cascadia Weekly, Ageist, Iowa Public Radio, GirlBoss, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, AskMen, Albany Times-Union, Idaho Press-Reader, Bmore Art Journal, Eugene Weekly, Marco Eagle, New Hampshire Union-Leader, WickedLocal Cohasset, Simple Chic Everyday, NPR-affiliate KJZZ (Phoenix), Away to Garden, Northshire Books, One More Page Books, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Coast Outer Banks, Quail Ridge Books, Little Professor Books, The Book Jam, Left Bank Books, Eight Cousins, Camp Kansas City, and Booksmith.
Sy is going to the dogs – and wombats are why. In January Sy will join an Earthwatch expedition studying wild dogs in Thailand. Here’s what she wrote for Earthwatch:
Nearly 36 years ago, wombats changed my life.
After five years working as a science journalist at a daily newspaper, my father gave me the gift of my dreams: a plane ticket to Australia. I’d always wanted to go. No other land boasts so many marsupials – mammals whose tiny, undeveloped young, and sweet belly pockets to hold them, had fascinated me since childhood. But what to do once I got there? I discovered Earthwatch, and joined an expedition with Brookfield Zoo’s respected research biologist, Dr. Pamela Parker, studying the underground lives of the southern hairy-nosed wombat at Blanchetown Conservation Park in South Australia.
A lot of our work involved counting fecal pellets. But I could not have been more riveted by the work. I loved the outback. I loved the animals. I loved the science. I loved falling asleep in my tent with the smell of eucalypt smoke in my hair, and waking to sunrises streaked with flocks of pink and grey parrots.
At the end of our two weeks together, Dr. Parker told me she wished I could come back — though she couldn’t hire me, or even pay my way if I wanted to volunteer again. But if I ever wanted to come study any animals at the park, she said, I’d always be welcome at her camp, and she would give me food.
So I quit my job and moved to a tent in the outback.
This is how I began a career off the beaten track. Since then, I’ve swum with piranhas, pink dolphins and electric eels in the Amazon, hiked the Altai mountains of Mongolia looking for snow leopards, and worked in a pit with 18,000 snakes. In Borneo, I’ve been undressed by a curious orangutan. In New Guinea, I helped radio collar tree kangaroos. In French Guyana, I held my (first) wild tarantula. I’ve been hunted by a swimming tiger, chased by a silverback gorilla, and embraced by several giant Pacific octopuses — and meanwhile written 25 books on animals and nature for adults and children, thousands of articles, and scripts for National Geographic TV. I’ve never looked back.
But all this time, I have ever been grateful to Earthwatch. And not just for that first expedition. In the ensuing decades, research for several of my books (including the one with the 18,000 snakes) has intersected with Earthwatch teams.
And now, to my delight, I am heading out with Earthwatch again. Thanks to a generous Earthwatch Communications Fellowship, this January I am looking forward to joining an Earthwatch team on the expedition Tracking Asiatic Wild Dogs in Thailand with principal investigators Drs. Ronglarp Sukmasuang and Nucharin Songsasen in Khao Yai National Park.
Asiatic wild dogs, also known as dholes, are one of the world’s most endangered canids, and also one of the most enigmatic. Red-coated and bushy-tailed, they look a bit like foxes. But other than their appearance, they are nothing like our familiar vulpines — or any other dog on Earth.
Dholes don’t bark, yip or howl. They whistle. They thrive among leopards, bears, and tigers. They can run 45 miles per hour, leap seven feet into the air (to get their bearings as they hunt!), and are excellent swimmers.
But despite their rarity, in many areas, dholes are considered pests. I’m honored to be able to work on a team that will help figure out how much food and room these whistling dogs need to survive, and how best to protect them.
Sy will be sharing the experience by posting blogs from the field. She can’t wait to tell you about her adventure.
People Magazine picks How to Be a Good Creature as one of the best new books of the year.
The Hyena Scientist has been chosen for this year’s Kirkus Reviews Best Books list.
How to Be a Good Creature is back on The New York Times Monthly Science Bestseller list at number 6.
Best Book Cover. Take a bow Rebecca Green for your fine work on the cover of How to Be a Good Creature. Book Riot has chosen it as one of the best book covers of the year.
Take at look at what the first bookstore customer is reading in this CBS News story on how indy bookstores are booming.
The German magazine, Bild der Wissenschaft – Picture of Science – has chosen the German translation of The Soul of an Octopus — Rendezvous mit einem Oktopus – as the best non-fiction of 2018 in their entertainment category.
Another Octo Convert. K. D. Miller is a Canadian writer who has won a following with her short story collections, including All Saints and Late Breaking. Recently Miller was interviewed about her favorite books. What book are you an “evangelist” for? she was asked. Miller replied, “The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. I couldn’t believe I was reading a whole book about cephalopods. Montgomery is a wonderful nature writer. She was one of the models for a character in my latest book – a woman who writes about spiders, bats and other things most people want nothing to do with. The Soul of an Octopus is proof that you can write about anything, anything at all, and, provided you do it with sufficient authority and skill, you’ll have people turning the pages.”
Inky-mania! Young fans Maddie and Harper paint their homage to Inky.
Inky’s Amazing Escape is Amazon’s pick for the best children’s nonfiction book of 2018.
Octo Wine. Two bottles of very appropriately labeled wine from a celebratory dinner at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, where Sy had the privilege of speaking. “Here’s to teachers, students, mollusks and raptors: Cheers!,” says Sy.
While in Arksansas to talk to students at Hendrix College, Sy enjoyed her visit to Raptor Rehab of Central Arkansas.
How to Be a Good Creature starts its second month on the New York Times Monthly Science Bestseller list.
Brain Pickings. Each week Maria Popova’s hundreds of thousands of readers wait for her thoughtful dispatches on art, science, philosophy, and other subjects. Last Sunday the subject of Brain Pickings was emus, pigs, tarantulas, Border Collies, and some of the other animals that grace Sy’s latest book, How to Be a Good Creature. Maria gets to the essence of the book. Sy, she writes, is “one of the most poetic science writers of our time.”
Texas Two-Step: Jellyfish and Bats. Sy’s visit to the fabulous Texas Book Festival brought a reunion with Spineless author Juli Berwald – her book is about jellyfish – and gave Sy a chance to meet native bats at the Austin Bat Refuge with her new friends, the refuge’s founders, Dianne Odegard and Lee MacKenzie. (But no actual country/western dancing, doing the Texas Two-Step.)
Sy was at the Nature Literature Festival in Barcelona in October where she met three of these Iberian wild boars. (We don’t know if these boars are publishers, editors, or writers.) They were grunting happily and wagging their tails as they dug up grass with their flexible nose disks. “Must have been a blessing from Christopher Hogwood,” says Sy. Her Spanish publisher flew her to Spain to celebrate the new Spanish translation of Spell of the Tiger.
Bestseller. How to be a Good Creature debuts at #9 on The New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction list for October 14.
People magazine has listed How to Be A Good Creature as one of The Best New Books of the year.
Inky’s Amazing Escape is a Powell’s Books Holiday Pick for 2018. “It’s perfect for curious kids and budding naturalists,” says Powell’s, the renowned Portland, Oregon, bookstore.
Pulpos to the People! The Spanish edition of Soul of an Octopus has arrived, and flowers from Sy’s editor at Houghton Mifflin, the amazing Kate O’Sullivan.
How to be a Good Creature is #10 on New York Times Monthly Bestseller list for science books.
Portrait of a Critic at Work. This young reader has just received a copy of Sy’s new children’s picture book, Inky’s Amazing Escape. The verdict? She likes what she sees.
The further adventures of Heidi, the best friend of turtles everywhere. Heidi, age 10, raised nearly $600 for sea turtle rescue and rehab. (See the entry below in August.) Heidi loves sea turtles. She’s upset that we don’t treat turtles better. On the last day of her summer vacation, Heidi went to the New England Aquarium to present a check to the aquarium’s veterinarian Dr. Charlie Innis. To celebrate, she got a hug and a squeeze from the aquarium’s male giant Pacific octopus, Professor Ludvig von Drake. And she fed leaves of lettuce to a very appreciative Myrtle, the 550-pound green sea turtle who reigns as the Queen of the aquarium’s Giant Ocean Tank.
Rescued and released. Sy recently helped release baby turtles. The turtles were hatched in the wild from nests carefully guarded by citizens with permits from state authorities. Sy, and acclaimed wildlife artist Matt Patterson, hand-carried the babies to release sites in habitats approved by biologists. (That’s Matt’s hand holding two turtles.) Too many turtles are endangered by poachers and innocent kids who just want a pet. So please: Do help a turtle cross the road, but don’t take a turtle home from the wil
Big crowd for Octopus and Jellyfish. Scenes from National Book Festival in Washington D.C. on September 1. A large crowd of over 1,000 heard Sy (that’s her in the middle) along with Juli Berwald, author of a book about jellyfish, Spineless (right) and the moderator, NPR Commentator Linda Holmes (left).
The Octo Ministry Continues. How to cap off a perfect weekend after the National Book Festival in Washington? With a visit with the unnamed young male Giant Pacific Octopus at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Sy sends many thanks to aquarist Peter Larson and volunteers Phil Wujek and Mike O’Connell. And guess what’s on offer at the aquarium gift shop? (Hint: a certain soulful octopus book.)
Birds of a (Clay) Feather. Helen Weiser is a potter and pottery instructor in British Columbia. She’s new to Sy’s books. She began with Birdology, which was recommended to her. She enjoyed it and decided to display the book at recent pottery exhibit with three of her “Gooney Birds” at the local library in West Vancouver.
Find Your Own Amazon Adventure. Sy’s friend, teacher Marion Magill, has developed a fabulous virtual tour of the Amazon, ideal for classrooms or just for fun. Sy is one of the guides. The New England Aquarium’s Scott Dowd, star of Sy’s book, Amazon Adventure, is another guide; and a third guide is Anna Magill, Sy’s teenage friend, to whom The Soul of an Octopus is dedicated. Here’s the link. Enjoy your trip–and it’s free!
Reading Buddies. Jayden, age 12, sits down to read The Good Good Pig with his dog Monty, who is named after Sy.
A turtle’s best friend. Sy meets some amazing people in her travels. When she spoke at a nearby elementary school she met Heidi, age 10. Heidi loves sea turtles. She’s upset that we don’t treat turtles better. She is raising money to help sea turtle rescue at the New England Aquarium. She made art and eco-bags and sold them at a booth in her town. (That’s Heidi’s mom, dad, and three sisters in the second photo — what a great team.) And this is just a start, Sy says. This girl is a whirlwind!
Liz and Sy recently read at the Norwich, Vermont, bookstore. You can watch them here.
The Good Good Pig is now in its 18th printing. Some pig!
Spanish Tiger. Sy’s book about the man-eating tigers of the largest mangrove swamp on earth, Spell of the Tiger, will be published in Spain this September.
What baby needs food every 20 minutes — but if you feed him too much, he could pop? While at the fabulous Santa Barbara Zoo, Sy recorded two short interviews – three minutes each — with her friend the host Dean Noble, which aired on Zoological Radio.
Condor Comeback. Sy is at the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge to work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Santa Barbara Zoo, and others doing health checks for Southern California’s condors. Here, handsome 10-year-old condor male 480 gets the spa treatment. Photo by the talented Tia Strombeck, whose work will illustrate Sy’s new Scientists in the Field book, Condor Comeback.
A Vulture for Supervisor. A youngster finds a good perch from which to watch biologists and volunteers conduct health and telemetry checks on 16 of his fellow condors at the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Sy got to help (and got pooped on twice– no small matter for America’s largest land bird). Thanks for sharing the photo, Estelle Sandhaus.
The Art of the Octopus. The Children & the Arts Festival parade in Peterborough, NH, starts with a big parade of giant puppets. This year’s theme was Under the Sea, so Hancock Library Director Amy Markus and her merry band created this giant octo honoring, The Soul of an Octopus. “We also sang Octopus’s Garden as we walked,” says Amy. “It was fab.”
All Hyena Radio. Sy joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan to talk about Hyenas on WGBH radio. Listen to whole show here. On NHPR’s Word of Mouth, Hyena fan Jimmy Gutierrez visited Sy and Thurber at home. Thurber serenaded Jimmy by singing along to his favorite music. Hear Thurber’s debut at 32:18. Hyenas are Jimmy favorite animal, but after his visit, Sy hopes that Thurber has nosed his way on to Jimmy’s list.
Pulpos to the People. The Spanish edition of The Soul of an Octopus will be published in October. Here’s a first look at the cover.
Book Riot has named The Soul of an Octopus as one of its 50 Best Nature Books. “If you didn’t think ‘page-turning adventure’ and ‘hallucinatory’ could be used to describe a book about octopus intelligence, then you should read this book,” says Book Riot. Sy is honored to join so many authors on the list that she admires, including Barbara J. King (How Animals Grieve), Julie Zinkefoose (Bluebird Effect), Temple Grandin (Animals in Translation), and Dava Sobel (Galileo’s Daughter).What a great group! Read the entire list here.
In the May 1 Washington Post, Sy will change your mind about hyenas: “Sy Montgomery thinks hyenas have gotten a bad reputation. They are, it turns out, great hunters, not the skulking scavengers of “The Lion King.” They are also very social creatures and express themselves through a variety of sounds, not just what seem like hysterical giggles.” This is the first review of The Hyena Scientist. Read it here.
Sy received a royal welcome April 20 to Wendover School in Greensburgh, Pa. The 6th, 7th and 8th graders made more than 200 posters inspired by her work and travels, which are displayed throughout the school. Leading up to the visit, students watched videos, read interviews, and studied Sy’s books and the animals who inspired them. Thanks to the incredible staff at the school, especially librarian Beth McGuire students see authors as awesome as rock stars!
Good Creatures All. Sy is delighted to be on the front page of today’s Wall St. Journal in the company of many other fine books about animals: “My Beloved Octopus: Animal Memoirs Move Way Beyond Cats and Dogs.”
And the lead of the story:
In her book “How to Be a Good Creature,” Sy Montgomery gains rare insight into her late mother after a wild ermine rips the head off one of the author’s chickens.
“She was, in her way, as fierce as that ermine,” Ms. Montgomery writes in her memoir about lessons she has learned from 13 different animals. After seeing the voracious creature, she writes, her heart “flooded with the balm of forgiveness” for her mother.
Sy enjoyed her visit to Newport, Oregon, where she was met by 100 octo-devotees at the Newport Public library and 300 fans at the Eugene Public Library. Sy was visiting because of the good work of Newport Reads! during which the entire community is invited to read and discuss one book, in this case a certain book about octopuses. The above display was created by Linda Anable from facts and materials provided by Lance Beck and Evonne Mochon-Collura. And below, Sy visits with Cleo at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Thank you all for the great visit.
Coming in September: How to be a Good Creature. In her new book Sy tells us about the personalities and quirks of 13 animals—her friends—who have profoundly affected her.
“What have animals taught me about life?” Sy asks in the book’s introduction.
Her answer: “How to be a good creature.”
“All the animals I’ve known—from the first bug I must have spied as an infant, to the moon bears I met in Southeast Asia, to the spotted hyenas I got to know in Kenya—have been good creatures. Each individual is a marvel and perfect in his or her own way. Just being with any animal is edifying, for each has a knowing that surpasses human understanding….
“Knowing someone who belongs to another species can enlarge your soul in surprising ways. In these pages you’ll meet animals who changed my life by the briefest of meetings. You’ll meet others who become members of my family. Some are dogs who shared our home. One’s a pig who lived in our barn. Three are huge flightless birds, two are tree kangaroos, and there’s also a spider, a weasel, and an octopus.
“I am still learning how to be a good creature. I try earnestly, but, perhaps like you, too, I often fail. But I am having a great life trying—a life exploring this sweet green world, and returning to a home where I am blessed with a multispecies family offering me comfort and joy beyond my wildest dreams.”
Kangaroo Training. The Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program features Sy’s Quest for the Tree Kangaroo in its excellent Junior Ranger Training program, here in the Papua New Guinea mountain village of Westkokop. Photo by Danny Sama.
Seen at Out of the Blue, a gift shop on Big Pine Key in Florida. Thanks to Elizabeth Hunter Lavallee for taking on the hard work of winter reconnaissance in Florida.
The John Burroughs Association has awarded the 2018 Riverby Award to Amazon Adventure. “The Riverby Award recognizes exceptional nonfiction natural history books for young readers. The books selected present perceptive and artistic accounts of direct experiences in nature and invite young readers to explore the natural world for themselves.” Amazon Adventure is one of five books honored with the Riverby Award in 2018.
Sy enjoyed talking about Tamed & Untamed on the Mongabay podcast.
Mongabay brings its listeners “news and inspiration from nature’s frontline.”
You can hear Sy here or find Mongabay on Spotify.
The popular German women’s magazine, Tina, joins in the Octo Mania with this story about Sy and The Soul of an Octopus.
Octo keeps swimming. The Soul of an Octopus is number 3 on the list of nonfiction bestsellers in the Bay Area.
We’re late on this. Last year the Berlin Medical History Museum presented an exhibit called: The Soul is an Octopus: Ancient Ideas of Life and the Body.
The exhibit examined the “ancient conceptions of the soul and its interaction with the human body. In Graeco-Roman thought the soul was not only the basis of an individual person’s thinking, feeling or moral character. It was also a biological principle that gave life and structure to the body….
“The exhibit asked “three important questions that were central to classical philosophers and physicians alike:
- What is the ruling part of the soul?
- Where does it reside?
- How does it communicate with the body?
“In short what did it mean “to be ‘ensouled’ in ancient times.”
Coming in February to bookstores in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novogorod, Omsk, Kazan, and elsewhere, the Russian edition of The Soul of an Octopus.
“Bearing Arms: The Amazing World of the Octopus.” Sy enjoyed talking about octopuses on the NPR show 1A. She was on with Danna Staaf, author of Squid Empire, and Kelley Voss, a doctoral student at the University of California at Santa Cruz’s Mehta Lab in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology. (1A is produced by WAMU 88.5 and is distributed by NPR.) Listen here.
Coming in May, a new book in the Scientists in the Field series:
Octo on the list. The end of the year is the time for reading lists. Former Congressman Steve Israel (D-N.Y. 2001 to 2017) asked his old colleagues in the House to tell him about books that they read this year for “insight, knowledge and, yes, escape.” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) enjoyed reading The Soul of an Octopus because it’s “a fun and fascinating diversion from the political stuff I usually read. It’s about a biologist’s relationship and attachment to octopuses. Amazing animals, octopuses posses powers of thinking and feeling far beyond anything I knew.” (Image from Alternate Histories on Etsy.)
Check out Freya on the move. “Freya,” the octopus you can now see at the New England Aquarium “seems to have strong opinions about some things. For example, she’ll grab the magnetic glass cleaner from her side of the glass when she decides it is not time to clean the glass. Her personality definitely shines through the glass,” say the folks at the aquarium. They’d love it if you’d come “meet this spunky new addition to the Olympic Coast exhibit.”
When Sy was in New York recently talking at the 92nd St. Y with Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and Barbra J. King, she was treated to a tour of The Butterfly Conservatory at the Museum of Natural History. Reader and museum volunteer Sandya Satia was a gracious guide. In the photo Sy enjoys a visit from a Blue Morpho and a Magnificent Owl.
Tamed and Untamed is the number one bestselling paperback at the Concord Bookshop in Concord, Massachusetts.
Sy was delighted to be on Brendan O’Meara’s Creative Nonfiction podcast. http://brendanomeara.com/montgomery79/ She told Brendan: “I have never picked the safe option and I have never regretted choosing what I’ve chosen ever.” After the show Brendan said, “Frankly, I came away from this conversation feeling good, just good, and the people who make you feel that way are the people you want to surround yourself with. I know I ended that sentence with a preposition, but whatever.”
Rendezvous mit einem Oktopus is popular in Germany. The German translation has just gone back for its fifth printing.
Spanish Octo on the way. Seix Barral, an imprint of Planeta, will be bringing a translation of The Soul of an Octopus to Spain.
The Good Good Pig paperback edition is now in its 17th printing.
Tamed and Untamed has crossed the pond. The Daily Mail in London has named Tamed and Untamed as one of the Best Reads of the Year, calling it “a charming collection of short, sometimes funny and occasionally eccentric essays.”
Un Animal Fantastique. The cover for French edition of The Soul of an Octopus is here. The “livre fantastique” will be published in April 2018.
Love of spiders. The fourth graders in Megan Popp’s and Christine Wittig’s class at PS/MS 200 in Flushing, Queens enjoyed The Tarantula Scientist. The class wrote Sy beautiful letters, and they are now pen pals with Sy. One student, Rochelle, wrote: “I really love your book and before I read it I hated spiders…Sam Marshall was a big help and taught me to learn about how important spiders are.”
Vulture Days. This is the view from the condor pen on a recent morning at the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in California. Sy is researching a new book about the critically endangered California Condor. Estelle Sandhaus took this photo through binoculars. Sandhaus is the Director of Conservation and Research at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Sy is also working with photographer Tia Strombeck as they create a new entry in Scientists in the Field series.
And here Sy is holding Condor 771, a “sub-adult” female, to be exact. She’s getting her health and telemetry check, as does every precious California alive on Earth, thanks to cooperation between the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Santa Barbara Zoo, and others.
Sy had a great visit with the students at the Moharimet School in Madbury, New Hampshire. Mrs. Schmitt’s third grade class sent Sy home with a pile of drawings of the animals they love. A few of them are here.
Born to be Wild. Here is the identifying plumage of the Tamed & Untamed authors. Spot them when they come to your bookstore.
Tamed and Untamed is a bestseller. For the week ending October 29, 2017, Tamed and Untamed is number 6 on the trade paperback nonfiction list of the New England Independent Booksellers Association’s IndieBound Bestsellers.
Listen to Sy and Liz talk critters on KGNU, an independent community radio station in the Boulder-Denver metro area.
The New Statesman magazine asks: “Have we underestimated the octopus? Far from a childhood memory from a Disney film, or something tasty on your plate in a seafood restaurant, the wriggling cephalopod is suddenly in the news. One might be forgiven for thinking some mollusc mastermind was running a very successful PR campaign. But it’s not as if the animals have just started doing all this stuff – they’ve been around for 300 million years. It’s just that we’ve taken a long time to realise it.” Read more here.
Liz and Sy thank the Norwich Bookstore for having them come by to read. The turn-out far exceeded the small store, so everyone gathered in a nearby church.
Artist Hannah Ellingwood recently went to the New England Aquarium with Sy (the writer) to meet Sy the Octopus. Hannah says: “Putting my hand into the water and having Sy reach out to explore me with her suckers was such an experience and I was excited to create my first octopus cut out inspired by her! Much thanks to Sy Montgomery for introducing me to Sy the octo!” See more of Hannah’s cut-out art on Instagram.
Tiny Fish, Big Honor. Amazon Adventure: How Tiny Fish are Saving the World’s Largest Rainforest is a Junior Library Guild Selection for Fall 2017.
Liz and Sy talk about their friendship in The Valley News: “She was what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Montgomery said this week, during a telephone conversation from her farm in Hancock, N.H. “From the first time we met, the thing that we shared was an understanding that animals can think and feel and know. That was — and something not everyone could agree upon — that all animals were a ‘who,’ not a ‘that.’ A ‘he’ or a ‘she,’ not an ‘it.’ ”
It’s “Famous Day” at school today. Young reader Natalie picks her favorite “famous” person – Sy.
Sy talks about what most people don’t know about animal intelligence for Care2, “the world’s largest social network for good… with over 40 million standing together, starting petitions and sharing stories that inspire action.” And Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and Sy talk about “anthrophobia” and our shared lives with animals on NHPR’s Word of Mouth.
The Soul of a Naturalist. “Montgomery has brought us closer to the consciousnesses of the animals with whom we share our world,” says literary magazine Tin House. “The result is a body of writing that is as rigorous in its thinking as it is enchanting, and that our planet in environmental crisis is lucky to have. It was an honor to speak with one of our greatest naturalists—and one who takes dance lessons with her dog, to boot.” Sy had a lovely time talking with associate editor Emma Komlos-Hrobsky. Read the Tin House interview.
Sy and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas talked with Steve Curwood, the host of Living on Earth about their new book, Tamed & Untamed. As Sy told Steve: “What we’re saying in this book and every single essay, whether it’s about hyraxes – these little groundhog-sized relatives of elephants who live in Africa – or an octopus at the New England Aquarium or the dog at your feet, these lives are so fascinating, so intricate, so mysterious, so thrilling, and so worthy of our respect and affection and awe.” Listen to the interview.
Octopus is the Solution. The New York Times Acrostic Solution for Sunday, October 1, 2017 was based on this: “(SY) MONTGOMERY, (THE) SOUL OF AN OCTOPUS — Here is an animal with venom like a snake, a beak like a parrot, and ink like an old-fashioned pen. It can… stretch as long as a car, yet it can pour its baggy, boneless body through an opening the size of an orange.”
Three scientists starring in three of Sy’s Scientists in the Field titles have been nominated for the Indianapolis Prize, one of the most prestigious honors in conservation. Scott Dowd, featured in Sy’s latest kids book, Amazon Adventure; Lisa Dabek, star of Quest for the Tree Kangaroo, and Laurie Marker, subject of Chasing Cheetahs, all made the cut to be considered for the prize honoring the most successful conservationist in the world. Congratulations to these wonderful friends on this recognition for their crucial work saving animals.
Rendezvous mit einem Oktopus. The Soul of an Octopus is a bestseller in Germany. It debuted this week at #12 on the Spiegel bestseller list. Extrem schlau, as the book’s subtitle says, Extremely smart.
Octo Returns. The Soul of the Octopus has bobbed up at number 9 on The Boston Globe’s nonfiction paperback best seller list, leaving us to ask: Is this good for the Sox?
Jannine Pizarro and daughters Madeline, 5 and Natalie, 4 brought their octo-paintings to Sy’s talk and signing at Stoddard, NH’s Town Hall on August 4. Their treasured octo-portraits now adorn the walls at Sy’s home.
Sy has been out and about talking about her new book for young adults, Amazon Adventure. You can hear her in this short interview on WGBH, along with the subject of the book, Scott Dowd, Senior Aquarist at the New England Aquarium. For more than 20 years, Dowd and his colleagues having been working with the native people to save many of the fish that make their way to North America’s home aquariums. Amazon Adventure tells the surprising journey of these small fish.
While at the aquarium, OctoNation caught up with Sy. She fields a few questions in this short video. OctoNation is the largest Octopus Fan Club with 83,900 followers on Instagram and 32,500 followers on Facebook. That’s one of their t-shirts below.
Sy also spoke to the BBC for the show, Natural Histories: Octopus. This “programme” (as our English friends spell it) will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 15 August at 11am, and repeated at 9pm the following Monday. It’ll be kept on the BBC iplayer and be available to download until September 15.
The Octopus and the Professor. The summer reading list of former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich is, as you’d imagine, long on weighty political books and studies of inequality, but he’s been immersed in a “fascinating book by a fellow named Sy Montgomery.”
“I, never, personally have been terribly interested in octopuses,” Reich admits, “but this is an absolutely fascinating, interesting, enjoyable, thought-provoking, piece of work.” To which we can only add that if you haven’t seen Reich’s documentary Inequality for All, you’re missing the best concise explanation of this problem, and the best use of graphics to explain statistics. Inequality for All is as swiftly told as a thriller or a murder mystery.
As part of the celebration of Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday, Sy was honored to receive the Henry David Thoreau Prize from PEN New England, a chapter of PEN America. The Thoreau Prize is awarded annually to “a writer demonstrating literary excellence in nature writing.” Previous winners include Gretel Ehrlich, E. O. Wilson, Gary Snyder, Peter Matthiessen, Diane Ackerman, and Linda Hogan.
Bella Polpo. Ricca, a publisher in Rome, has just bought the rights to publish The Soul of an Octopus (or Polpo) in Italy. And a publisher has just signed up to translate Journey of the Pink Dolphins into Chinese.
The Korean edition will be out soon. Here’s the cover:
The Andrew Luck Book Club. Sy enjoyed talking with Andrew Luck, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback, about The Soul of an Octopus. You can hear Andrew and Sy discuss play-action passes, scrambling on third-and-long, and protecting the pocket. Actually, no. It’s all octos and Mr. QB asks good questions.
Brain Pickings. The nimble Maria Popova has gained a large following for her discussions of fascinating thinkers, artists, and writers. Recently writing about the “central mystery of consciousness,” Popova referred to The Soul of an Octopus, which she also wrote about in earlier post.
The wonders of inner lives. Coco and her mom, Jessica, are reading The Soul of an Octopus. Coco is 11 years old. She has autism and Rett Syndrome. She doesn’t speak, and until two years ago everyone thought she was nonverbal, says Jessica. But then Jessica discovered a way for Coco to communicate by pointing at big capital letters on a clear sheet. Coco goes letter-by-letter until she has completed her thought. “Now we know she is highly verbal and has been misunderstood her whole life (and is still so misunderstood by many),” says Jessica.
They are having a good time reading Sy’s book. “She is really identifying with these octopuses!” says Jessica. Here are Coco’s thoughts about three different parts of the book:
“Octopuses are awesome. Octopuses are clearly more intelligent than they look. Autistic people are also more intelligent than they look. Besides autistics there are probably many other creatures who are misjudged because they look or move differently than what humans consider to be normal. Seeing the truth about someone when it contradicts what you always thought might be scary for some. Leaving behind long held assumptions can be difficult because doing so can feel antithetical to our core beliefs.
“Dying octopuses can become violent. People can easily misunderstand octopus behavior . They are a lot like humans yet so alien to us too. Can we presume to understand these creatures? Getting to know them is a first step. Having been misunderstood my whole life has made me particularly sensitive to this.
“Do animals feel what we feel? Do they attain wisdom through life experiences like humans? Scientists have looked for evidence except they are assuming that behaviors are the only indicators of the internal workings of the creatures they are studying. I am a creature whose behaviors are closely monitored. Bcbas [Board Certified Behavior Analysts] track and analyze my behaviors. So do they know my mind? Dare I say certainly not. I behave in ways that can be confusing. I scream sometimes when nothing is wrong. I pull hair when I want kids to like me. Once my cat came up for a pet and I picked her up by the tail. Never would I want to hurt her. I love her. My hare brained compulsions do not add up to the sum total of my intellect. Speaking of hares, who is to say that they do not have brilliant brains? It’s time we humans stopped making assumptions that are unfair and unfounded. Calling a bunch of ignorant observations data does not make it scientific fact. There are wonders and inner lives in all animals and people.”
Thank you Coco and Jessica. Sy loved hearing from you.
The most wonderful things just show up in Sy’s mail. These games were created by a reader in Poland, graphic designer Magdalena Stadnik. She had read the Polish translation of Journey of the Pink Dolphins. “I love it,” she wrote. “The book is un-put-downable magic.” The game Creatures include beautiful and endangered animals like the hirola, the gharial and the indri. Another game, Spectres, highlights animals who recently went extinct. Each species is represented in beautiful detail on black and white cardboard cards. To play, you put all the cards showing the animals face down next to one another. Turn over any two; if they’re identical, collect them and reveal another two. If different, put them back where you found them, and let another player take a turn. Your aim, like Noah’s, is to collect matching pairs. The player with the most matching pairs wins. You can order the games here: http://zagrywki.com/en/
Dear Match Book: What Books Best Capture Science and Nature? Match Book is a New York Times dating service for readers looking for a good book. (You know the plot: Book club seeks a good book, meets a good book thanks to the Times, and the rest is a page-turning happily ever after.) One science book that Match Book suggests? The Soul of an Octopus.
The Soul of an Octopus is #4 on the Pacific Northwest Independent Bestseller list of nonfiction paperbacks for May 28.
What do NFL Quarterbacks do in the off season? Andrew Luck is reading The Soul of an Octopus. Top that Tom Brady.
Bank Street College of Education has chosen The Great White Shark Scientist as one of the Best Children’s Books of 2017.
New translations on the way. ART Grup Editorial has signed up to publish The Soul of an Octopus in Romania. And a Spanish publisher will bring The Spell of a Tiger to that country.
Sy spoke at the Boston March for Science. She was speaking to kids and teens, to future scientists:
I want to tell you about a very special place I visited a few years ago.
It was on New Guinea—a place that has been called a Stone Age Island. Located north of Australia, it’s been known as “a lost world,” “a land that time forgot”. New Guinea was mostly unexplored by outsiders till the middle of the 20th century, for a number of excellent reasons: Tangled jungles. Steep mountains. Erupting volcanoes. Aggressive crocodiles. Poisonous snakes. Tropical diseases. Also, cannibalism and headhunting.
But because of New Guinea’s long isolation, there are animals who live here that even Dr. Suess couldn’t invent. Birds who grow tall as a grown-up, with helmets of bone capping bright blue heads. Spine-covered, worm-eating mammals who lay eggs. And kangaroos who live in trees. Real kangaroos, with pouches, who climb into towering, moss-covered trees, and then jump out of them—and bounce away!
That’s why I came—for the tree kangaroos. Working on one of my books for young readers, I joined a team of researchers trying to do what others had told them was impossible. We wanted to capture and radio collar a particular kind of tree kangaroo—the Matchie’s tree kangaroo. It’s about the size of a big cat, with orange and yellow fur and a sweet pink nose. It spends most of its time 80 feet high in the trees. It eats orchids.
Nobody had done this before.
To get to the animals we had to hike along some of the toughest trails I’ve ever done. For three days, we struggled up steep slopes slippery with sucking mud. We were up so high—10,000 feet—we were literally in the clouds. The air was thin and hard to breathe. The second day of hiking, I quietly wondered whether I was having a nine-hour heart attack.
Lisa always loved animals, but as a kid growing up, she couldn’t even have a dog. She had to give away her beloved cat, Twinkles, when she was 11. Why? Because she had terrible allergies, and asthma so bad she would wake in the night gasping. She couldn’t play sports. She loved nature but she lived in New York City. She wanted to be a wildlife biologist. So what could she do?
Despite her asthma, Lisa found ways to study animals as a child. She studied fish at the New York Aquarium. Fish didn’t give her asthma. Neither did the seals. At her house, on her asphalt roof of her parents’ apartment, she studied ants. Lisa let nothing get in her way.
Lisa met her first tree kangaroo at a zoo. She knew right away they were special. When she learned they were endangered, she vowed to anything she could to help them—and that meant she had to learn how they lived in the wild.
She started traveling to New Guinea to meet them. The mountain hikes were really hard! She carried an inhaler to help her breathe. She took special pills to open her airways. But she discovered that America’s polluted air made her asthma worse. The clean air of New Guinea made it better!
Breathing, though, was only one of her problems. The second was finding the tree kangaroos. She spent weeks looking for them. The tree kangaroos were hiding because people hunted and ate them. After five weeks in the field, Lisa saw only two tree kangaroos.
And then she didn’t see another for seven years.
But Lisa kept trying. Finally she found a group who hadn’t been hunted and weren’t afraid. But up in the trees they were still hard to see. She needed to outfit them with radio collars—but everyone told her it would be impossible. People said the telemetry you need to detect the signal from the radio collars wouldn’t work in the cloud forest. There were too many trees. They’d interfere with the signal. Folks told her not to even try.
I can see how people might get discouraged trying to do something like this. At the end of every day, our little group was exhausted, bruised from falling, and wet and muddy. Once we ran out of food and had to eat ferns. Other things went wrong. Equipment didn’t work in the rain. Our satellite phone failed. We worried about the stinging nettles, and also about the leeches–they sometimes get in your eye.
But all our discomfort vanished the minute we saw our first wild Matchie’s tree kangaroo. He was even more adorable than we imagined. His colors were crazy-brilliant. His nose was the cutest, softest pink. He looked like a big stuffed animal. And his fur was as soft as a cloud.
How do I know? Because I touched it—because we captured, radio collared and tracked FOUR tree kangaroos on that trip. And today, Lisa has data on many dozens of tree kangaroos, data that is helping to save this species and the cloud forest upon which these and so many other wonderful animals–and the wise, local people–depend.
So why am I telling you about New Guinea as we march together here half a world away in Boston?
Because this story reminds us the power of what science can do. Science can change the world.
And this story also shows us what science demands of us.
Science demands we share our data. But today, much data–like on climate change–is being repressed; for political gain, many of our leaders openly deny the facts–supported by billions of data points from thousands of scientists– showing beyond a doubt that our climate is changing due to man-made pollutants. That’s bad news for tree kangaroos—and for whales and reindeer and eagles and coral reefs.
Science can show us the solutions. But science also demands determination. And we all need to muster that determination right now—to not only gather data, but get it out there—to heal the world.
Doing science isn’t always easy. But we’re not going to quit. Like Lisa, we’re not going to back down. We’re going to keep collecting and sharing and discussing the data– we’re going to find the way to save the tree kangaroos and their forests–and our oceans, and our air, and the climate of our beautiful Earth.
Girls & Gills. When Loula Thomas turned 6 years old, she had a “Save the Sea” birthday party. “Loula is a shark, octopus and manatee lover,” says her mother Tassia, adding that Sy is “pretty much a hero in our family.” Loula is a member of The Gills Club, which connects girls and women marine scientists. As party favors, Loula gave out copies of Sy’s The Great White Shark Scientist and The Octopus Scientist. And her big sister, Penny, age 10, made a Pin The Dorsal Fin on the Shark game (seen behind Loula).
Sy is a guest blogger for the National Geographic where she asks readers to Consider the Octopus.
Octo in La La Land. The Soul of an Octopus is number 10 on the Los Angeles Times paperback nonfiction list.
This drawing was a present from the Fishes Staff at The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. The Senior Aquarist, the charming Evan Culbertson, introduced Sy at the evening All Henrico Reads program. (You old Muscle Car enthusiasts will note that the Octo is at the wheel of a GPO, which is strikingly like a 1969 Pontiac GTO.)
The Great White Shark Scientists has won the Riverby Award from the John Burroughs Association. Each year the John Burroughs Association honors authors, illustrators, and publishers of the best published nature writing.
The Riverby Award is given to “excellent natural history books for young readers that contain perceptive and artistic accounts of direct experiences in the world of nature.” This year seven books were honored.
The Japanese edition of The Soul of the Octopus has hit the Ginza, and who is that on the cover, Anime-style, but the author herself sporting flowy Farrah Fawcett hair (1970s, go look it up).
The Great White Shark Scientist is in fine company on the long list for the Green Earth Book Awards. Take a look at all these great books. The Green Earth Book Award is the nation’s first environmental stewardship book award for children and young adult book.
Ośmiornica, Tintenfisch, 문어 (Mun-eo), たこ (Tako), 章鱼 (Zhāngyú), Poulpe, Oсьминог (Os’minog). That’s how to say octopus in all the languages that The Soul of an Octopus has been translated into: Polish, German, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, French, and Russian.
Gumbo Limbo Nature Center is a joint venture of the City of Boca Raton, Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District, Florida Atlantic University (FAU), and Friends of Gumbo Limbo. Each year, more than 190,000 visit the 20-acre preserve on a barrier island and learn about sea turtles.
“You might think a book on cannibalism would be upsetting, but this one’s not. It’s refreshing,” writes Sy in her New York Times book review of Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt. Cannibalism, writes Sy, is a “jolly book” that is “full of surprising news.”
Amazon Adventure is a Junior Library Guild Selection. The Junior Library Guild is a book selection service serving many thousands of libraries, which rely on them to guide their book purchases for young readers. The Guild reviews books in advance of publication and select those they consider the best. Amazon Adventure will be published in July.
Octo Rising. That octopus book keeps swimming upward. The Soul of an Octopus is now at No. 4 on The New York Times Animals Bestseller list for January.
душа осьминога (Dusha os’minoga) – That’s Soul of an Octopus in Russian (or so says Google Translate). Sy’s Octo book will be published in Russia.
“Sy Montgomery’s books create an image of our collective ancestry,” says a review of three of Sy’s books posted by the Human Venture Community. “Why is this important? When we see humanity in all living beings we care about more than just our own species. No matter what other communities we belong to, we belong to two fundamental communities, life and humanity. Obligations to smaller communities, be it our social group or nation, can blind us to needs the greater community of life. If we connect our own process of becoming with humanity’s process of becoming, it will shift the way we prioritize and carry out our obligations. This is critical because the kind of learning and solutions we need for our civilizations greatest threats, need to be informed with all of life in mind.”
The review covers The Soul of an Octopus, Birdology, and Walking with The Great Apes. The Human Venture Community in Calgary, Alberta, is “committed to ongoing research and learning by exploring Human Learning Ecology,” which seeks to understand “the priorities, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors” that created the environmental crisis.
Octo Obama-rama. As a parting gift to President Obama, the famous Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, has sent him 10 books and it’s quite an interesting gathering, including a certain octo book. (They’ve also sent the incoming president a different set of books.)
Last December, Powell’s “invited customers to suggest books for President Obama and President-Elect Trump as they move into new roles. After hundreds of recommendations, the store chose 10 books each for the incoming and outgoing presidents ‘with a focus on informative, entertaining, and inspirational titles.’ The books are being sent in time for Inauguration Day,” says the store.
“In a note to both recipients, Powell’s CEO Miriam Sontz wrote: ‘All of us have great faith in the transformative nature of books — we are passionate about the impact reading can have on our personal lives and on the life of our country. Those of us in the book business are also optimists. We know that life will always present challenges and books will always be there to help us.’”
The 10 books for President Obama:
A Full Life by Jimmy Carter
The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
My Beer Year by Lucy Burningham
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Goodbye Mr. President, we will miss you. And should you have any questions about octopuses, just pick up the Octo Hotline – you know, the phone with 8 buttons that changes colors and has tentacles – and call Sy.
My Sweet Octopus. That will be the Japanese title for The Soul of the Octopus to be published in February 2017. Or: 愛しのオクトパス――海の賢者が誘う意識と生命の神秘の世界. The translation of the subtitle is: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness and Life, Invited by the Intelligent Creature in the Sea. A very popular Japanese cartoonist, Chiisakobe O.C., has drawn the cover.
As 2016 ends, The Soul of an Octopus is on these lists of bestsellers at independent bookstores for the week ending December 25: #7 in New England, #9 in the Pacific Northwest, #10 in Southern California, #3 in Northern California, and #10 in the Mountains & Plains.
Forbes, the business magazine, has chosen The Soul of an Octopus as one of the 10 best popular science books for 2016.
An octopus walks into a movie…. Sy received this report from friend and editor Phil Pochoda, reporting from a “grand Los Angeles theater” where he was seeing Jim Jarmusch’s new movie, Paterson: “Towards the end of the movie, the hero, after a distressing event, is wandering through a bookshelf of primarily poetry books (not least, William Carlos Williams’ Paterson, which book seems to underlie much of the plot and characters in the movie). But third from the end of the shelf is …. Soul of an Octopus (though it’s hard to figure out why it would have been included). In any case, it felt good to see it there.” An octopus always dresses up a movie.