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.
“Science is for Girls.” A Mighty Girl.com says it is “the world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls.” They have chosen a mighty girl who Sy knows: Temple Grandin. Sy’s book about Temple is now on Mighty Girl’s list of books about female scientists.
Books of the Year:
The Soul of an Octopus is at #20 for December on The New York Times Science book bestseller list.
The Great White Shark Scientist has been named as one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2016.
The Soul of an Octopus is one of this year’s top ten audio books on Libro.fm’s list of the bestselling audio books at indie bookstores. Sy read her book for that recording – but not, alas, at the wonderfully named Octopus Garden Sound Studio.
The National Science Teachers Association has named The Octopus Scientists one of the outstanding science books for students.
The Nonfiction Detectives – “Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children” – have chosen The Great White Shark Scientist as one of the top books for 2016.
Go, pig, go! The Good Good Pig is now in its 16th printing. There are nearly 109,000 copies in print.
And in news of Octopodes, The Soul of an Octopus is on these lists of bestsellers at independent bookstores for the week ending December 4: #5 in New England, #7 in the Pacific Northwest, #5 in Southern California, #3 in Northern California, and #11 in the Mountains & Plains.
Octo-Potus. The West Wing Weekly is an episode-by-episode discussion of one of television’s most beloved shows. This podcast has gathered a big audience. It is co-hosted by one of its stars, Joshua Malina, along with Hrishikesh Hirway of Song Exploder. So naturally they’d get to discussing octopuses. In Episode 1.07, “The State Dinner,” the podcast hosts have this discussion:
Q: “Did you know that octopi is not the plural of octopus”
A: “I do know that because my wife just read a book called The Soul of An Octopus and now all she talks about is octopuses.”
They then discuss Inky the octopus’ escape from the aquarium tank: “Apparently they are incredibly smart. They just have very few venues in which to show their intelligence.”
“Yeah, if we lived underwater they would be overlords.”
“That’s right. They’d absolutely would be our overlords. One of the many reasons I refuse to live underwater.”
Club Book brings authors to the Twin City area. Sy visited in November. You can listen to the live event.
Sy’s octopuses are still swimming toward new friends. The Soul of an Octopus in #19 on The New York Times Science Bestseller list for November. And it’s on these lists of bestsellers at independent bookstores: #5 in New England, #4 in the Pacific Northwest, #4 in Northern California, and #10 in the Midwest.
The Micro Activist Connor Berryhill and his Dad entering Monterey Bay.
Sooo Coool!! Do octopuses have feelings? Do they love? That’s what the young “Micro Activist” Connor Berryhill wanted to know, so the 9-year-old naturalist made this amazing video.
The Micro Activist says: “I can’t think of a single super hero that has as many abilities as one of these buggers! How about Star Wars then…Nope nothing so bizarre as an octopus in any of those movies either. Harry Potter, Lord of the rings? Nope and Nope!
“What really confuses me is how so many kids go crazy about these made up things when any of use can just go right out there and actually meet the strangest and coolest living alien that anyone could possibly imagine… ever!
“So to better answer that question, I guess I’d have to say my Mom and Dad agreed to help me make this video if it would “Get me to stop talking about them every frigging moment of every day!” Thanks for the help Dad and Mom! and I really will try to stop talking about them, as much…but they’re just Soooo Coool!!”
Sy loves the Micro Activist’s octo-video. Don’t miss it.
As of October 26, The Soul of an Octopus is on six regional independent bestseller lists: #1 in the Pacific Northwest, #8 in New England, #12 in the Mountains & Plains, #9 in the Midwest, #8 in Southern California, and #3 in Northern California. And #16 on The New York Times Science Bestseller List.
One Pig’s Odyssey. Tony Morrison, Annie Proulx and Homer. That’s what the staff and board at the New Hampshire Humanities are reading. Each year they post a list. This year’s list includes Beloved, Barkskins, The Odyssey, and other titles including The Good Good Pig.
Rediscovered Books, Boise, Idaho
When the librarian is a scuba diver and wears a shark hat, you know it’s a fun school. Sy had a great time visiting the Bluebell Elementary School in Pennsylvania on October 18 with Lisa Ruff (in the shark hat) and Donna Branca (hatless) — and tons of really cool kids.
Sy received a warm welcome from the Shady Grove Elementary School in Pennsylvania on her October 17 visit.
Love & Happiness. Global Climate Change. Challenges of Race Relations. Octopuses have something to contribute! These are just 3 of the 30 classes at University of Idaho using The Soul of an Octopus for its Common Read Program. This October the entire freshman class at the University of Idaho is reading The Soul of an Octopus. On Sy’s whirlwind visit to campus she visited classes, met with fellow journalists, toured the entomology museum, hiked up Paradise Ridge to watch the sun rise over the Palouse Prairie, gave a public program…and even met a Giant Palouse earthworm (soon to star in its own Boston Globe column. Is the Hub ready for the G.P. E.?).
The Soul of an Octopus has reached an auspicious number: its 8th printing.
As of October 2, The Soul of an Octopus is on four regional independent bestseller lists — #10 in New England, #13 in the Mountains & Plains, #6 in the Pacific Northwest, and #6 in Northern California.
What else would you expect to see in Octo-ber?
Everyone is reading The Soul of an Octopus. Each year the Howe Library in Hanover, New Hampshire, picks one book for its month-long community event called “Everyone is Reading.” This year it’s all about octopuses in Hanover. In addition to book discussions and talks about the ocean, you can “craft your own octopus” like the handsome yarn octopus seen above.
The Soul of an Octopus is presently swimming about on two New York Times Bestseller Lists for October: It’s at #17 on the Science list and #5 on the Animals list. And it continues on the regional independent bookstore lists: #3 in New England (Watch out Sox!), #1 in the Pacific Northwest, #9 in Northern California and #7 on the Mountains and Plains list.
For the week of September 4, The Soul of an Octopus is on these bestseller lists:
#4 — New England Independent Booksellers Association
#7 — Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
#5 — New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association
#13 — Midwest Independent Booksellers Association
For summer’s end, The Soul of an Octopus is living large on the bestseller lists. The week of August 31 finds the book at #3 on New England Independent Booksellers Association list, #8 on Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association list, #3 on the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association list, #8 on Southern California Independent Booksellers Association list, and #6 on the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association list.
For the week of August 12, The Soul of an Octopus is on these regional bestseller lists:
#3 – New England Independent Booksellers Association
#9 — Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association
#3 — Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
#10 — Southern California Independent Booksellers Association
#3 — Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
Beantown is Octo-Town. The Soul of an Octopus is number 3 on the Boston Globe’s Best Seller list for paperback nonfiction. Go Sox!
Sy’s octo book has swum into a new harbor. For the first time it appears on The New York Times Bestseller list of science books. It is at #20 for August. It’s also #5 on The New York Times Animals Bestseller list for August and it’s on these regional bestseller lists for the week of August 14: #6 –New England Independent Booksellers Association, #2 — Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, #3 — Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, and #3 –New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association.
Sy’s friend Sandy Waters sent this Programme of Events of the RMS Queen Elizabeth for Sunday, June 23, 1957, which she bought at an antiques show. The day’s schedule began with optional swimming starting at 7:30 a.m., and included films (Sy would have most enjoyed “Catching Sea Creatures” provided they put them back), Melody Time, BBC News Broadcast, orchestral selections, Bingo — and the night’s gala “Fancy Head-Dress Parade” at 10:30 p.m. followed by dancing. Sounds fancy, but they do all this on Jet Blue, too.
For the week of August 7 The Soul of an Octopus is on these regional bestseller lists:
#4 – New England Independent Booksellers Association
#7 – Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
#4 – Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
#6 — Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association
Kakapo Rescue inspires a genome project. Andrea Graves, a freelance science writer in New Zealand, recently wrote to Sy to tell her how her book on “the world’s strangest parrot” has “sparked off a wonderful series of events.” Jason Howard, a Duke University scientist, read Sy’s kakapo book to his daughter. Howard is sequencing avian genomes to “study the genetic basis of vocal learning.” After reading Sy’s book, he decided to sequence the Kakapo’s genome, and after much effort, got the samples he needed sent to the U.S.
“New Zealand science and conservation is hugely underfunded, so there is no way we could have afforded that in New Zealand,” writes Graves. “Jason’s decision to sequence the kakapo genome was crucial to it happening.” And it kicked off further research. “Now, via a crowd-funded project, New Zealanders have raised the money to sequence every single living adult kakapo, which is the first time ever that all the individuals in a species have been sequenced. Of course it helps that there aren’t many of them. There are likely to be huge conservation benefits to knowing the full sequence of all individuals, because they are fairly inbred as you can imagine.”
Andrea Graves concludes her note with further good news: There are now about twice as many kakapos on the island than there were when Sy wrote Kakapo Rescue in 2008.
For the week of July 17 The Soul of an Octopus is on these regional bestseller lists:
#3 – New England Independent Booksellers Association
#6 – Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
#12 – Southern California Independent Booksellers Alliance
#4 – Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
#8 – New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association
For the fourth month The Soul of an Octopus is on the New York Times Animals Best Seller list. It has moved up to #5 on the July list.
When Sy read at The Meetinghouse Readings in Canaan, NH, moderator Phil Pochoda introduced her. Phil is a retired publishing veteran (Simon & Schuster, Prentice Hall Press, Pantheon Books, University of Michigan Press, and the University Press of New England, where he edited two books written by Sy’s husband, Howard Mansfield.)
Phil welcomed Sy with this introduction:
Now well into the 21st century, long past the Age of Aquarius and the era of Carlos Castenada, shamans are in short supply. Those were the guys (since they are generally, but not always, male) who were able, sometimes with chemical assistance, to leave their human bodies, take up the form of their animal spirit guide, often a bird, but sometimes a fish or mammal, and do supernatural things for themselves and others. In particular, they were the mediators between the human and the animal worlds; they interpreted animals for humans and humans for animals.
We are lucky tonight to have, in New Hampshire resident Sy Montgomery, the only shaman that I know of, and certainly the only one I know personally. Sy, as shamans do, roves the earth relentlessly: there have been sightings of her from the Caribbean to Sunderbans (a non-mythical place, which hovers somewhere between India and Bangladesh, and where non-mythical tigers regularly hunt non-mythical humans) with lengthy touch-downs also in Cambodia, the Amazon, Tahiti, New Guinea, Mongolia, and Manitoba. On her journeys she communes at length with birds, mammals, and sea creatures — surreal ones such as pink dolphins, ground-dwelling Kakapo parrots, golden moon bears, giant tarantulas, white sharks, tree kangaroos, snow leopards, and the giant Cassowary bird, and, as we will hear much about tonight, octopuses (not octopii), but she is equally tight with domestic animals such as pigs, chickens, and cockatoos.
Happily for us, she does return to New Hampshire after each shamanic adventure, where in book after book, article after article, she tenderly, beautifully, and passionately relates these transforming and transcendent experiences at so many human/animal interfaces. And so sitting safely in our homes, we and our children and grandchildren get at least a second-hand version of her miraculous shamanic border crossings, enabling us also, if we consent, to be transported out of our normal bodies into truly magical realms where we too may be deeply affected and our attitudes and actions towards animals permanently altered….
I’m so pleased to welcome back to the Meetinghouse, our neighbor, our friend, our shaman, Sy Montgomery.
For the week of July 10 The Soul of an Octopus is on these regional bestseller lists:
#5 – New England Independent Booksellers Association
#10 – Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association
#9 – Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
#4 – Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
A view from Sy’s trip to the Serengeti where she followed wildebeest on their migration, which is the largest migration on earth. Here Dr. Dick Estes, who has been studying wildebeests for more than 55 years, surveys the herd.
Octopus Obsession: A Quilted Book Review Cathy Perlmutter was, she says, “born with a desperate need to make stuff.” She makes “mostly quilts” and shows her wonderful quilts on her blog Geflitequilt. Her most recent quilts are her first book review. “A few weeks ago, I picked up the new book, The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, by Sy Montgomery, and could not put it down,” she writes. Above and below are Cathy’s two octo quilts. On her blog you can learn how to make these quilts. She concludes her quilted book review: “Read the Sy Montgomery book. You’ll love it!”
The Soul of an Octopus is a finalist for the New England Book Awards. Members of the New England Independent Booksellers Association will announce the winners later this summer.
Birdology has gone back to press for a new printing.
Octo book keeps on swimming. For the week of June 12 The Soul of an Octopus is on these regional bestseller lists:
#7 – New England Independent Booksellers Association
#6 – Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
#7 – Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance
#4 – Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
The Great White Shark Scientist is published today, June 7. Above is an exclusive photo of the festivities at the publishing offices of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The Soul of an Octopus is in its 6th printing for the paperback and the 12th printing for the hardcover.
“The great white shark gets a bad rap…. According to writer and naturalist Sy Montgomery, it’s time to set the record straight. ‘If you look at the numbers, your chances of being hurt by a great white shark, they’re actually one in 37 million,’ Montgomery said in an interview with Boston Public Radio Thursday. “Whereas your chances of being injured by a toaster or a toilet or a room freshener are much higher than that!”
“Citing a 1984-1987 study showing 1,600 New Yorkers suffering from bites from other humans, Montgomery stressed that shark attacks against humans pale in comparison. ‘If you’re not afraid to go into your bathroom where the deadly toilet is lurking, or into the kitchen where, oh no, there might be a malfunctioning toaster,’ she said, ‘you shouldn’t be afraid to go into the waters of the Cape.’”
Traveling in style. The New York Times asks various stylish designers, chefs, singers and artists, what they pack. “When it comes to travel, they focus on the same things: the right bag, clothing that doesn’t wilt during a long flight, and the best tech and audio gear” – and the right book. Andrew Smith, a Detroit car guy — executive director, global, Cadillac design – told the Times, on June 2, “I typically also take a couple of novels” And for this trip: “I just bought The Soul of an Octopus.” Of course. It’s the Cadillac of octopus books.
Number One in the Pacific Northwest. As of May 26, The Soul of an Octopus continues to be a popular choice for readers:
#1 – Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
#7 – New England Independent Booksellers Association
#4 — Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
#15 – New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association
#6 – Midwest Independent Booksellers Association
And it is at number 7 on the New York Times Animals Best Seller list for June.
Shark! Sy’s newest book for young readers, The Great White Shark Scientist, is being greeted with great reviews:
* A powerfully persuasive book … a convincing attitude changer that adults might find engrossing enough to read at the beach.
— The Huffington Post
* Prepare to be enveloped in saltwater air and dizzying blue water in this latest entry from veteran author Montgomery… Exceptionally written and highly recommended for those looking to give a timely summer boost to STEM collections.
– School Library Journal, starred review
* This appreciative introduction to a much-maligned species will thrill readers while it encourages them to see great white sharks in a new way.
—Kirkus, starred review
* Montgomery’s play-by-play narration and Ellenbogen’s dramatic photos give the scientific excursion a thrilling sense of immediacy that should leave readers feeling like they’re along for the voyage.
— Publishers Weekly
* One minute Montgomery recounts the technical details of shark tracking, the next minute relays the steps she needs to take to be safe on the ocean, and the next narrates an all-out shark chase, as researchers on a boat and in a plane work together in a successful shark identification bonanza. This approach fully immerses readers in the field research experience, as do the excellent photographs of people, sharks, and the environment.
— The Horn Book
* A fine addition to the ever-popular shark shelf.
— Booklist, Starred Review
* Thoughtfully presented with focus and accessibility [and] ample delight for thrill seekers.
— The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
Sy meets Sy the Octopus. The New England Aquarium has named one of its new Giant Pacific Octopus after a certain author and frequent visitor. “It’s a huge, huge honor,” says Sy (the author not the octopus).
As the Union Leader reported: Montgomery recently met Sy, who was captured in the wild just a few weeks before she came to New England Aquarium.
“She is perfect,” she said. “She is amazing.”
Montgomery offered the octopus some fish on a “grabber,” but the animal grabbed her arm instead. “She pulled and pulled me and almost pulled me in,” she said.
Then Sy the octopus “hosed” her with saltwater from her tank, a move that can either be hostile or playful, according to Montgomery’s book. “And after that, we just got down to petting each other,” she said. “She was sucking on me, letting me pet her head, and changing colors.”
Montgomery loved it.
She also loves the notion that folks will be singing Sy’s praises when they visit the aquarium’s new exhibit, “Tentacles.” “Thousands of people will be saying, ‘Sy is so beautiful,’ ‘Sy is so flexible,’ ‘Sy is so strong,” she said, laughing. “And so colorful!”
Go Pig Go! The paperback of The Good Good Pig is now in its 15th printing.
Arms Across America III. The Soul of an Octopus is on these Regional Independent Bestseller Lists for the week of May 15:
#5 – New England Independent Booksellers
#4 – Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
#7 – Midwest Independent Booksellers Association
The paperback is now in its fifth printing.
Kochałam go jak wielką, grubą świnię. Bo był świnią. That may be Polish for: “I loved him like a big, fat pig. Because he was a pig.” At least that’s what Google Translate says is the headline on the extensive interview of Sy by Paulina Reiter, editor in chief of the leading Polish women’s magazine Wysokie Obcasy. From what we’ve read through the fog of Google Translate, it is a good, thoughtful interview. At right is the cover of the Polish edition of Sy’s Journey of the Pink Dolphins.
Arms Across America II. The new paperback edition of The Soul of an Octopus returns to six regional best seller lists for early May:
#5 — New England Independent Booksellers Association
#11 – Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance
#5 — Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
#9 — Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
#7 – New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association
#10 — Midwest Independent Booksellers Association
Quest for the Tree Kangaroo is a grade 4-5 Exemplary Informational Text for the Common Core Standards.
Sy serves as affiliate faculty (nonfiction) for Southern New Hampshire University’s Master of Fine Arts in Fiction and Nonfiction program. Recently SNHU News interviewed Sy. Among the questions: What challenges you most as a writer and how do you overcome it? Her answer: “Too often I am intimidated by my own material. I think: I’m not good enough for this. I’ll screw it up! … But at these times, I don’t pretend to believe in myself. Instead, I believe in my teachers-the animals and people I met along the way. I trust in those teachers when I can’t trust in myself. I can’t believe in myself all the time (who can?) but I can always count on the animals, and they give me the strength and courage to go on through anything.”
Inky’s escape is the talk of the town. Inky may have left the building (the National Aquarium of New Zealand) but he’s still on our minds. The NewYorker.com called Sy to discuss octopus intelligence. Just what was Inky thinking? Hard to say, of course, but it doesn’t mean he wasn’t thinking. “It’s easy to project our own feelings onto animals—and that’s a mistake,” Sy told The New Yorker, “but it’s a worse mistake to think that we are up on some kind of pedestal and that animals can’t also think, feel, and know.”
The Soul of an Octopus has returned to the Best Seller list. The paperback debuted at number seven in March and in April it moved up a spot to number 6 on the New York Times Animals Best Seller list.
Arms Across America. The new paperback edition of The Soul of an Octopus is on several regional best seller lists:
#5 — New England Independent Booksellers Association
#4 — Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
#14 — Northern California Booksellers Association
#15 — Midwest Independent Booksellers Association
The paperback is already in its third printing.
The Consequences of Consciousness. Leslie Thatcher has interviewed Sy for Truthout. They talked about how we treat animals. From the interview: “The idea of the tree of life is a beautiful metaphor, but it’s not ladder-like; it doesn’t start in the dirty ground and end with us humans up above on the top with the angels. I personally don’t want to be on the top. It’s lonely there. I’d rather be embedded with the family. There are definitely ways of understanding the reality of the world that we humans cannot access with our senses. Other creatures, including birds, can see colors we can’t — and we know these colors are real. There are truths out there that have been discovered by other species that we may never discover and understand.”
Inky Escapes! The Octopus flees his New Zealand aquarium and swims to freedom. Sy was busy fielding questions from The Christian Science Monitor, Slate, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. USA Today, and Public Radio International. Here’s one story from PRI.org and USA Today:
A well-loved octopus named Inky escaped recently from the National Aquarium in New Zealand. Aquarium manager Rob Yarrall says the lid to the octopus’ tank was left slightly ajar after maintenance one night.
“He found this rather tempting, climbed out,” Yarrall says, “and he managed to make his way to one of the drain holes that go back to the ocean, and off he went, and didn’t even leave us a message, just off and went!”
The escape happened earlier this year, and hit the New Zealand national press Tuesday.
“Octopuses are fabulous escape artists, and it’s absolutely not surprising that he saw an opportunity to explore and he took it,” said Sy Montgomery, author of “The Soul of an Octopus.”
According to Montgomery, octopus escapes from aquariums are common. “They can squeeze through the tiniest spaces and easily, a 100-pound octopus can squeeze through an opening the size of an orange,” Montgomery said.
The drain pipe in the New Zealand aquarium was about 6 inches wide. Octopuses can typically squeeze through an opening as small as their mouths, or beaks, as they are the only hard part of their body.
“Their muscles are less like our biceps than our tongues,” Montgomery said, “so they can flow in a way that, even if our muscles were detached from our bones, our muscles could not do.”
A slime covering Inky’s skin would have prevented it from drying out as he oozed from his tank to the drain that led to his freedom. And the suckers on his tentacles, which octopuses can use to taste food, would have also helped propel him across the floor. “Each sucker can lift an enormous amount of weight,” Montgomery said.
According to Montgomery, a 3-inch-diameter sucker on a giant Pacific octopus can lift 30 pounds.
Montgomery says octopuses get out of aquariums so frequently not because of their Houdini-like escape skills, nor because they’re lonely — they’re solitary creatures — but because they are generally super curious.
“It doesn’t mean that Inky was unhappy where he was,” Montgomery said. “Astronauts don’t go into outer space because they don’t like Earth, they just want to see what else is out there.”
Aquarium manager Yarrall says Inky was brought to the aquarium from a nearby reef just a few years ago, so it’s likely he’ll be able to survive in the wild. And while he didn’t leave a note, there was a different telltale sign that he did, indeed, escape and wasn’t stolen: a trail of water from his tank to that drainpipe of freedom.
The teachers and the students at the James Mastricola Upper Elementary School in Merrimack, New Hampshire, went all out, decorating with themes from Sy’s books. Here are two doors, above and below.
The Great White Shark Scientist 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.
China Bound. The China Ocean Press will be publishing the Chinese edition of The Soul of an Octopus.
Just published: The Great White Shark Scientist. Sy and photographer Keith Ellenbogen visit their editor, the fabulous Kate O’Sullivan, at Houghton Mifflin, and Sy adds to the Octo Art she left last time.
A visitor. Sy spent a recent Saturday with Polish journalist Paulina Reiter, editor in chief of the leading Polish women’s magazine Wysokie Obcasy. The interview should run in the magazine in about a month – Sy will post it for her Polish readers! Here Paulina holds the Polish edition of The Good Good Pig and gets a kiss from Thurber.
The Soul of an Octopus has just been published in paperback, and it’s already in its second printing.
Another volunteer for Sy’s Octo Troopers. Sy is proud of her ten-year-old penpal, Maya (at right in the photo) and her cool school science project. She and her dad wrote Sy after she read The Soul of an Octopus, which inspired her octopus-themed research.
Sy’s publishers in Poland — Dobra, Swinka, Dobra (The Good, Good Pig) — have sent her a dozen birthday cards, including these two, above and below.
A meeting of the minds. The folks at Brainpickings have fallen for Sy’s “breathtaking inquiry” into the consciousness of octopuses. They advise: “do treat yourself to Sy Montgomery’s bewitching The Soul of an Octopus.”
Houghton Mifflin has just released this video, filmed at the New England Aquarium, about Sy’s forthcoming book, The Great White Shark Scientist to be published on June 7.
The Soul of an Octopus is now in its 11th printing.
“Empathy for domesticated animals is natural to us, but empathy toward many other creatures can take effort. Mammals usually aren’t challenging, nor birds. Insects and reptiles are harder, but familiarity can make it easier. How about invertebrates of all kinds, though? And that most mysterious of invertebrates — the cephalopods, including the octopus?
“The Soul of an Octopus takes us into the stunningly alien world of octopus consciousness. From the mesmerizing chameleonic shapeshifting of their skin color, textures and shape changes, to their eight-armed dexterous coordination, to their playful intelligence, Montgomery introduces us to a life form that expands our imagination and strains our empathy into a bigger orbit. As she writes, quoting one of the biologists she works with: ‘Just about every animal,’ Scott says, ‘– not just mammals and birds– can learn, recognize individuals, and respond to empathy.'” And on working with these animals: ‘You learn to project empathy.’”
“It is a quantum leap in our sense of ourselves and of the place of consciousness in our planet’s fellow beings. As such, it is a bold step toward a greater understanding of the risks and values in the ecological relationships we maintain with the whole wide world.” — John E.
O is for Octopus. Helen MacDonald, author of the acclaimed H is for Hawk, was asked by The New York Times Book Review: “Who are your favorite writers on nature?”
MacDonald’s answer: “Too many to list! Off the top of my head, and restricting myself to modern writers, Barry Lopez, R. F. Langley, Tim Dee, Kathleen Jamie, Sy Montgomery, Julia Blackburn, Luke Jennings, and so many more.”
Big Read. Sy’s neighbors in Hancock, Peterborough, and Jaffrey are getting set for this year’s “Big Read,” when the communities will take on one book. This year readers will be wrapping their arms around The Soul of an Octopus. The libraries will buy books with a grant from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. On Earth Day, April 22, Sy will give a talk at the Peterborough Town House, 7 p.m.
A pig, a bear and a fruit fly walk into a bar…what happens next? Listen to Sy’s interview on WGBH with hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan at the 1:45 mark.
The American Library Association has chosen The Soul of an Octopus as one of its 25 Notable Books for 2016.
The Octopus Scientists has won the 2016 AAAS/Subaru SB&F (Science Book & Film) prize for excellence in science books. For the last 10 years, The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, backed by Subaru, has honored outstanding science writing. The Octopus Scientists is their pick for the middle grades.
A Choice Honor. The Octopus Scientists is a CBCC Choices for 2016. CCBC Choices is the annual best-of-the-year list of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Choices considered 3400 books. They selected only 259 books or about 8% for the Choices list.
The Nerdy Book Club is led by the kind of people Sy loves to meet: dedicated teachers and readers. It’s run by four teachers in Texas, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. After visiting their website, you’ll want to bookmark it to see what they love to read. Each year they award “The Nerdies” to the best books and for 2015 they have chosen The Octopus Scientists.
A big thank you to the students of the Cambridge Friends School for their lovely notes after Sy’s visit. The covers of a few of these notes are above and below.
The Soul of an Octopus is now in its tenth printing.
That pig is still on the loose! Christopher Hogwood is spreading holiday cheer in Poland. Monika Szymon, owner of a gingerbread bakery, took time out at a hectic time to write to Sy: “Now we are busy with Christmas orders and have little time for reading. But your history of Christopher was with us during this busy time: I’ve been reading aloud from it. We fall in love with that energetic, hedonistic person. Probably that’s why Chris appeared spontaneously in our gingerbread works: as a piece of dough left after cutting out stars and trees. Thank you for your books and works!”
The Octopus Scientists has been named to Booklist’s Editors’ Choice 2015 list.
The Soul of an Octopus is on The Daily Beast’s list of The Best Nonfiction of 2015: “Montgomery’s illuminating new book [is] funny, sad, and endlessly fascinating.”
“For those who are ready to welcome our octopus overlords,” Jillian Capewell, Entertainment News Editor for The Huffington Post recommends Sy’s octopus book as one of the “20 Notable Non-Fiction Books You Might’ve Missed This Year.”
The Nonfiction Detectives – “two intrepid librarians” who “review the best nonfiction books for children” – have chosen The Octopus Scientists as one of the best of the year. “Montgomery builds excitement, suspense, and a sense of adventure through the first person narrative, dialogue and vivid descriptions of what it’s like to spend days diving and searching for the elusive octopus…The Octopus Scientists is a recommended purchase for school and public library. It would make an excellent mentor text for a writing class working on first person narratives, and it would be an exciting read aloud in a middle school science class.”
Sy shared octopus images and stories with the students and staff at Cambridge Friends School near Boston on December 9. How does an octopus squirt ink? Where is an octopus’ mouth? How can you tell a male octopus from a female octopus? They had wonderful questions!
Shelf Awareness has picked a certain book about octopus as one of the best of the year, as has Deborah Blum on the National Public Radio show Science Friday.
The Soul of an Octopus is now in its 9th printing.
AudioFile Magazine has chosen The Soul of an Octopus as read by Sy as one the best audiobooks of 2015.
“Success has many authors” as the saying goes. Thurber shares the credit! Sy is grateful, and glad to be back home.
Scenes from Sy’s amazing week in New York at the National Book Awards. Her editor Leslie Meredith sitting next to her at the awards ceremony and dinner.
The cake Atria/Simon & Schuster created to celebrate the book. And here’s a link to Sy’s reading – four minutes for each finalist.
The best of the year. The Soul of an Octopus has a tentacle or two on many year-end lists of the best books:
* Library Journal picks it as the Best Sci-Tech book of 2015.
* Amazon says it’s one of the two best science books, and also “Sports/Outdoors” books. (Octo sports? O Amazon thy ways are mysterious, but thank you.)
* And both The Soul of an Octopus and The Octopus Scientists (grades 4 to 8) are finalists for the book awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Vote: The Soul of an Octopus is a semifinalist for a Good Reads Choice Award. Readers choose the winners, so please vote.
The National Science Teachers’ Association has chosen The Octopus Scientist as an Outstanding Science Trade Book for K-12.
“I have always felt deeply connected to different animals because, as a child, I didn’t feel there was a separation to start with. Most of us as children don’t feel that separation. Most of us as children, our dreams are filled with animals, and we can still feel the connection to our own past as hunter-gatherers who had to pay attention to the natural world and feel part of it. So that’s who we are, and to embrace the rest of animate creation is our own destiny as humans. And it is extremely dangerous for us to lose that.”
That’s part of the wonderful conversation Sy had with the writer Laura C. Rohrer who interviewed Sy for the National Book Foundation. Read it here.
The Soul of an Octopus is a finalist for the 2015 National Book Awards. The other four nonfiction books that made the cut from the “Longlist” are: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me; Sally Mann, Hold Still; Carla Power, If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran; and Tracy K. Smith, Ordinary Light.
The winner will be announced November 18.
Sixth and Seventh Printings. Simon & Schuster has ordered two more printings of The Soul of an Octopus.
Last week Sy had the great pleasure of returning to Utah to visit a great group who are dedicated to putting children together with books that they’ll love. Sy spoke at the annual conference of the Utah Chapter of the International Reading Association. She was introduced by Lauren Aimonette Liang. Professor Liang teaches in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Utah and she has the kind of home in which reading flourishes. Professor Liang’s introduction:
In my life, Sy Montgomery is a superstar.
Sy has written over 20 books for children and adults. Her books have won several awards and her newest title, The Soul of an Octopus, is on the nonfiction long list for the National Book Award. Her children’s books have introduced thousands of children around the world — including my own— animals they may never have heard of otherwise, and helped them to love and care for these often endangered animals.
In my home it started with the kakapo. In first grade my son was asked to read a nonfiction book on an animal and write a report. Looking through the bookshelves in my office, he found and fell in love with Sy’s Kakapo Rescue book. This was the start of an avid interest in our house not just in the kakapo but in tree kangaroos, pink dolphins and more animals highlighted in Sy’s books. When my son’s class pet “Fang” suddenly became our family pet this past summer, we were prepared for the new “Fang Liang “ thanks to Sy’s book The Tarantula Scientist. Her writing is captivating, as she combines facts about her animal subjects with stories of her research and the adventures of the scientists she joins.
In my undergraduate and graduate children’s literature classes, many students read Sy’s works as an example of outstanding children’s nonfiction. A year ago while a small group was examining which sections of a page from The Snake Scientist were pure expository text and which were more narrative nonfiction, one student looked up at me and said, “I know this is narrative nonfiction here, but I think Sy makes it come alive so much that it’s almost persuasive text—I am suddenly loving snakes!”
In an interview Sy said “We are on the cusp of either destroying this sweet, green Earth—or revolutionizing the way we understand the rest of animal creation. It’s an important time to be writing about the connections we share with our fellow creatures.” Sy’s books inspire exploration of these special connections. Her books also show the extreme measures she undertakes in her research to better understand the animals she meets.
My children think Sy is amazing because she knows so much about animals they have come to love.
My students think Sy is amazing because she writes such eloquent nonfiction text for children.
I think Sy is an amazing superstar because she writes books that not only teach students about animals and the work of biologists and research scientists, but that also convince children — and adults— that the absolute coolest job in the world is being a nonfiction children’s author.
Great News: The Soul of an Octopus has been “longlisted” for the National Book Awards. There are 10 fine nonfiction books on the list.
Fifth Printing. Simon & Schuster has ordered a fifth printing of The Soul of an Octopus.
The Noodle believes that “all children can be avid readers — even those who would rather peer through a microscope than pore over a book.” See their list of books recommended by librarians for students in different grades. Sy is happy to see that the Noodle is recommending her book about Temple Grandin.
Sy loves getting mail from readers.
Dava Sobel, author of Longitude, is one of Sy’s favorite writers. Sy is happy to hear that Sobel will be discussing The Soul of an Octopus in the classes she’s teaching at Smith College. Sobel writes: “I read a few books myself this summer, including Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. All three will come up in conversation in this year’s classes, as they offer, respectively, a fictionalized account of organisms affected by climate change, a scientist’s appreciation of a misunderstood mollusk, and the bonds between humans and other animals.”
The Westmoreland Town Library
in New Hampshire welcomes
Sy with some Octopus Cupcakes.
Octo-occupation. For the third month in a row The Soul of an Octopus is on the New York Times Animals Bestseller List. It’s at number ten.
Indie Bestseller. The Soul of an Octopus has returned to the bestseller list of the New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA). It’s at number 13 on the hardcover nonfiction list for the week ending August 9.
Kiwi Octopus. Sy talks to Radio New Zealand.
Forget Shark Week — what we really need is Octopus Week, the New York Post declares after reading The Soul of an Octopus. And they back up their case with videos of octopuses performing their usual amazing feats.
The Soul of an Octopus moves closer to number 8. It’s at number nine on July’s New York Times bestsellers list of books about animals.
Fourth Printing. Simon & Schuster has gone back for a fourth printing of The Soul of an Octopus.
In great company, along with Jacques Cousteau and Rachael Carson: Off the Shelf picks 11 Books to Explore the Mysteries of the Ocean Deep.
Bond – James Bond – and Sy. Alton Brown is a chef, host of the popular show Good Eats on the Food Network, and is busy touring the country with a live show. The website Lifehacker asked Brown all sorts of questions about his kitchen, the tools and apps he uses and:
Q: What are you currently reading?
A: Gravity’s Rainbow, James Bond novels, and Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus.
Octopuses Down Under, across the Atlantic and in the Hub (Boston). Sy talks to ABC Late Night Live in Australia, to Sean Moncrieff, Ireland’s favorite radio show host, and to Modern Notion Daily. Sy also appears on WGBH’s television show, Greater Boston, at the 16:29 mark.
Booksellers love The Soul of The Octopus. That’s what three of Sy’s favorite independent booksellers told the New Hampshire weekly, The Hippo:
* Michael Herrman, owner of Gibson’s Bookstore: “A fascinating journey into the minds of creatures that are separated from us by half a billion years of evolution.”
* Holly and Willard Williams, owners of The Toadstool Bookshop: “Successfully foists her enthusiasm on all readers, even those who might not have initially shared her love.”
The latest Octo radio. While in Vancouver Sy spoke with CBC Radio One on The Early Edition about what she’s learned from octopuses: “They’ve taught me that there’s many different ways of knowing and thinking and feeling, all vivid and all important…. These animals’ brains are so different from ours, their lives are so different from ours, their bodies are so different from ours… they taste with all of their skin, including their eyelids …. They can know you and know you are different from this other person … and that to me expands the moral universe quite a bit.” Hear the rest of the short interview.
The story behind the book. In Sunday’s Boston Globe, Sy talks about why she wanted to write about Octopuses: “This strong sense of personality attracted her to the animals, said Montgomery, who co-writes a Globe column, Tamed and Untamed. ‘We split from our common ancestor with the octopus half a billion years ago. And yet — you can make friends with an octopus.’
“Is friendship the right word, really, or is that anthropomorphizing a set of animal reactions and responses? Montgomery rejects the question. ‘Anthropomorphism is such an interesting concept,’ she said. ‘It means projecting human thoughts and emotions onto an animal. Which implies that thoughts and feelings belong to humans alone. Of course, if you believe in evolution, or if you believe in the Bible, that’s not so. Both evolution and the Bible tell us that we’re part of a family.’ Read the rest of the short interview.
Underwater photographer Keith Ellenbogen has signed copies of our book for kids, The Octopus Scientists, at New England Aquarium’s great gift shop. If you’re in the area, stop by and pick up a copy — and don’t forget to say hello to Elvira the octopus (who’s on eggs).
New York Times Best Seller. The Soul of an Octopus is on the Times’ Animals Best Sellers list for June at number 10 — but surely number 8 would make more sense.
The New York Times Sunday Book Review writes about the Octopus book surfacing on the Best Seller list — Hugs and Kisses: Among the usual paeans to dogs and other cuddly creatures on the monthly animals best-seller list, there’s also a more surprising tribute: “The Soul of an Octopus,” by the naturalist Sy Montgomery, makes its debut at No. 10. In a recent interview with CBC News, Montgomery conceded octopuses don’t have the best reputation. “It has something to do with being an invertebrate, and being covered with slime . . . and those suckers,” she said. “But the suckers are great. It’s kind of like being hugged and kissed at the same time. You go home and you’ve got hickeys on your arms to explain to your husband. But you’ve been having this meaningful interaction with an octopus.”
Report from the road. Sy is on her book tour. She reports: “Souled” out! My talk on octopuses at Denver Museum of Nature and Science was SRO with many smart questions (including an excellent one from 4-year-old Henry about octopus ink)–what a great night!! Now about to cuddle with Cheryl Miller’s corgi Louie and Aussie Roddy before bed–early to rise to get to Columbus Ohio tomorrow. (Seattle was also SRO.)
And from Ohio, Sy reports: We sold out of books in Columbus! Great fun to be with dear friend Becky Rose and other Columbus Zoo staff and volunteers, as well as reunite with beloved host of the popular “All Sides” radio show at WOSU radio, Ann Fisher. Listen to the interview here.
Mail from an 11-year-old student who wants to be a Marine Biologist. She’ll attend Boston Latin in the fall. She heard Sy on the radio and wrote to thank her: “The way you spoke today inspired me to learn about octopi and the ocean, and I wanted to thank you.”
Bestseller. The Soul of an Octopus is on the bestseller list of the New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA). It’s at number 13 on the hardcover nonfiction list. Now onward, we hope, to the number 8 spot. Where else for an octopus book?
Third Printing. Simon & Schuster has gone back for a third printing of The Soul of an Octopus.
More Octo Radio. Listen to Sy’s interview on NHPR’s Word of Mouth.
Look for a review in The Week, June 12, 2015.
Beach Blanket Cephalopod. The Soul of an Octopus makes the list on NHPR’s Annual Summer Books Show.
This little piggy went to Gibson’s Bookstore to hear Sy read from her new book. Tazzy is her name and she lives on Miles Smith Farm. “Tazzy is a fan of Sy’s book, The Good Good Pig,” says her human chaperone.
What do Jackson Pollock, fruit flies and the Levy Distribution have to do with octopuses and human behavior? That’s what National Geographic asked Sy. Read the interview here.
Happiness. “What really makes humans happy, I believe, is our connection with the real, living, breathing, sweet green world, a world full of so many different kinds of creatures, a world endlessly mysterious and exciting and beautiful,” Sy says in a short interview with Thrive Wire.
“If you don’t love all creatures great and small after reading Sy Montgomery you have no heart.” – Kathye Fetsko Petrie, author, editor, and we’re proud to say, a friend from long ago.
Christopher Hogwood gets a great reception in Poland! Here’s just one of the enthusiastic reviews of Dobra Swinka, Dobra:
The Alien at Your Doorstep. Just off Seattle’s coastline lives something more alien, fascinating and emotionally appealing than any science-fiction space character. It has unearthly superpowers: It can taste with its skin; it can resist a pull 1,000 times its own weight; it can change color and shape, squirt ink and inject venom; it can grow to more than 100 pounds, yet pour its baggy, boneless body through an opening the size of an orange. Read Sy’s story in The Seattle Times.
Handle with Care. The June 2015 Reader’s Digest has an excerpt from Sy’s Birdology about how Brenda Sherburn raises baby hummingbirds. You can see Chris Buzelli’s art here.
Just published — May 15. In bookstores now: The Soul of an Octopus –A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness. Atria Books | 272 pages | ISBN 9781451697711
The Soul of an Octopus is one of GoodReads Best Books of the Month for May 2015. “What an incredible story. It shows how interconnected all living things are on our planet and creates a reverence for all who reside here. Remarkable.”
Octopus on the radio. Our world is really the remnants of a previous one, says one Hawaiian story, and the only survivor of that previous world is the octopus. How did it survive? It slipped between a crack in the two worlds. Listen to Sy talk about The Soul of an Ocotpus on PRI’s The World. And on WGBH’s talk show Boston Public Radio.
Two legs good, eight legs best: five reasons to love octopuses. As if you needed any reasons for Octo Love. Read this article in The Guardian.
Dobra, Swinka, Dobra. Christopher Hogwood has arrived in Poland, far from his New Hampshire pig pen. Chris’ Polish publisher is beaming with pride:
Kiedy Sy przygarnęła cherlawego prosiaka, nie miała pojęcia, że to stworzenie – początkowo nie większe od kota – nie tylko przeżyje i urośnie do ogromnych rozmiarów, ale też podaruje jej to, czego zawsze szukała: rodzinę, dom i przyjaciół.
Christopher Hogwood, bo tak go nazwała, stał się ulubieńcem okolicy. Sąsiedzi przyprowadzali go, gdy uciekał, córki sąsiadki urządzały mu ciepłe kąpiele, a powiększające się grono znajomych zwoziło przepyszne resztki ze swoich stołów.
Inteligencja i sława czarno-białej świni rosły wraz z jej wagą – Chris trafił nawet do radia i telewizji.
Sign at the Los Angeles Zoo — western lowland gorilla exhibit:
Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cats has made the 2015 Green Earth Book Award Short List. The winning books will be chosen from this short list and will be announced on Earth Day, April 22, 2015.
“The Nature Generation created the Green Earth Book Award to promote books that inspire children to grow a deeper appreciation, respect, and responsibility for their natural environment. This is an annual award for books that best raise awareness of the beauty of our natural world and the responsibility we have to protect it.”
Kiss the Cheetah! Chasing Cheetahs is one of Kiss the Book’s Top 50 Books for Secondary School readers for 2015. The list will be presented at the Utah school librarians’ annual conference. And the cheetahs in great company: Check out the entire list of wonderful books for young readers: http://kissthebook.org/top50/
That pig is on the move again. Christopher Hogwood has returned to the New York Times bestseller list. On February 22, look for The Good, Good Pig on the E-Book Nonfiction list at number 12, and on the Combined Nonfiction list at number 19.
On the radio. Sy answers a myriad of questions about animals – cats that comfort the dying, rent-a-pets, dogs left at home, a pit of 18,000 snakes, her Border Collie Sally, and her flock of hens. Listen to Boston Public Radio on WGBH at the 2:00:20 mark.
And more radio. On Something Wild, Sy recalls how she first heard the “call of the wild” as a toddler, (before age 2) at the Frankfurt Zoo in Germany. “Somehow I got into the exhibit with the hippo,” she recalled. “Hippos bite you in half; they’re very dangerous animals.” Small as she was, especially next to the hippo, she didn’t get nervous. More importantly she didn’t start running around as little children can do when they panic. And she has a simple explanation for why she didn’t. “I’ve always just felt much more at home with animals than people.” Listen to this short NHPR show here.
Chasing Cheetahs is an ALA Notable Book for 2015. Each year the American Library Association selects the “best of the best in children’s books” and we are happy to say that this year that includes Chasing Cheetahs.
The Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Children’s Nonfiction has chosen Chasing Cheetahs as a Recommended Book for 2015. “The NCTE Orbis Pictus Award was established in 1989 for promoting and recognizing excellence in the writing of nonfiction for children. The name Orbis Pictus, commemorates the work of Johannes Amos Comenius, Orbis Pictus—The World in Pictures (1657), considered to be the first book actually planned for children.”
Sy is writing a new weekly column about animals for The Boston Globe. She shares the writing of Tamed/Untamed with her good friend Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs. They will alternate every week. On the last week of the month, they’ll try to answer your questions about animals. Contact them: email@example.com Sy’s first column — Psychological effects of pets are profound – can be read here.
Sy started off the year with a Skype visit with eleven 4th grade classes at PS 14 in Queens. The session was organized by teacher and journalist Markos Papadatos–who wore his tarantula tie in honor of the occasion.
A highlight of our virtual visit was a letter written by one student to the French Government pleading for protection for the tarantulas, who are frequently killed to be encased in Lucite as souvenirs. Tarantulas are important because their venom can yield important drugs. But also, noted the student, if these beautiful spiders are killed, “the rain forest will feel lonely and it will not be exciting.” Here is the letter:
Dear French Government,
Please stop killing tarantulas. You need to protect them from being killed. People should not kill them for souvenirs because they are so important to us.
One reason why you should protect tarantulas is they save our lives because their venom stop us from having heart attacks. This can help lots of people.
Also they make an important part of the rainforest. If they are killed the rain forest will feel lonely and it will not be exciting.
Another reason why you should not kill tarantulas is because people like to study them. If people study them they will continue to make amazing discoveries.
After reading the Tarantula Scientist, this is why you need to make laws to protect the tarantulas from being killed.
Dayabara, Class 4-314
An international honor for Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World. Temple Grandin has been selected for the IBBY Documentation Centre for Young People with Disabilities. The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) is a non-profit organization based in Switzerland which represents a network of people from all over the world who are dedicated to bringing books and children together.
Chasing Cheetahs is a finalist for a 2014 Cybils Awards. The Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Awards “aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal.” The nomination for Cheetahs says: “This is a perfect blend of inspiration and science, encouraging kids to dig deeper and think about a popular topic. A great book for strong middle-grade readers to enjoy on their own or to read together as a family or class.”
Talking Sharks. Sy was on Here & Now to talk about sharks and our fear of them. About her first dive she says: “Although my heart was pounding when I went down in the cage — when I actually saw the sharks, instead of feeling at all frightened I was engulfed with this sense of tranquility.” Listen to the short interview here.
Sy has more to say about sharks and our fears in a story she wrote for the online journal Aeon: “Danger girl –What I learned about fear, sex, desire and dread from the peculiar pleasures of diving with great white sharks.” Read it here.
Dobra świnka, dobra’! That’s Good Good Pig in Polish. In 2015 The Good Good Pig will be published in Poland. Christopher Hogwood has already ventured overseas in Dutch, British, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Portuguese editions. He always enjoyed (unauthorized) tours around the neighborhood. Now that pig is an international traveler.
Cheetahs take Chicago. The Chicago Public Library has chosen Chasing Cheetahs as one of the Best Informational Books for Older Readers of 2014.
Chasing Cheetahs has been chosen by Smart Books for Smart Kids as one of the Best Science Books for Children in 2014:
“Chasing Cheetahs educates readers in a most fascinating way about the importance of the survival of cheetahs as a species; as predators they play an important role in the circle of life, controlling populations of antelope…. The photographs in Chasing Cheetahs by Nic Bishop are outstanding, offering us a glorious glimpse into Namibia’s cheetah habitat; it’s the next best thing to being there.
“The lessons to be learned about the way cheetahs live and are being threatened are thought provoking. If this one species of wild animals is at risk at the hand of humans then we must ask what other animals do we adversely affect? What are the consequences? How can we change this? Reading about Dr. Laurie Marker and her journey to save cheetahs is priceless. What children will take away from this book is that one person with great passion (and a good education) can accomplish goals that – while at first may seem impossible – are not only attainable, but can make a huge and lasting difference in this world.” You can read more here.
Sy is immensely enjoying the big piles of letters and drawings from students at West Clay Elementary in Carmel, Indiana, with whom she recently visited, and Metawee Community School in West Pawlett, Vt., with whom she scyped last week. In our scype session, we focused on coral reef animals. This drawing, by the talented Harlow Rosemary Quail, depicts the walking or flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi), an Indo-Pacific relative of the octopus, displaying a threatening pattern of bright colors.
Chasing Cheetahs has been selected as one of the Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 for 2015. This list is a cooperative project of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the Children’s Book Council.
Five wonderful elementary schools in Carmel Indiana rolled out the red carpet for Sy last week, where she shared stories and images of her work, signed and personalized hundreds of books, and answered the kids’ thoughtful and perceptive questions. Thanks to the fantastic school librarians, the kids were extremely well-prepared; they had been reading Sy’s work, watching videos, learning about animals and creating artwork for weeks in advance of her arrival.
Thank you to Cherry Tree, College Wood, Mohawk Trails, Smoky Row and West Clay Elementary Schools!
Here’s some photos and artwork from that unforgettable visit:
Sy’s new friend, Lauren, started a wildlife journal like Sy’s after having lunch with her!
Sy’s forthcoming book for young people, The Octopus Scientists, photographed by Keith Ellenbogen, has been chosen as a Junior Library Guild Selection. JLG is a collection development and review service that schools and libraries have relied upon for 85 years, suggesting upcoming books with particular promise. The Octopus Scientists is the true story of an expedition to study wild Pacific Day Octopuses in french Polynesia with a team of octopus experts–including an octopus psychologist! The book will be published in May by Houghton Mifflin.
The end of September finds Sy in a cage underwater with Great White Sharks. This summer she’s worked off Cape Cod from a boat with shark researcher Greg Skomal and his team. But to get really up close and personal, she’s getting in the water with these beautiful animals, traveling with photographer Keith Ellenbogen to the chrystal-clear waters off Guadeloupe, Mexico. She hopes to get views like these!
The Regret of Rats, the Grief of Wolves: Animals Do Have Emotions, But What Should We Call Them? Sy talks with her friend and fellow “animalist” Vicki Croke for The Wild Life which runs on WBUR’s Here and Now. Read the interview here. Or listen here.
Sy’s short essay, “Tarantula Heaven,” is part of the fifth installment in the Guys Read Library of Great Reading. The True Stories anthology features “ten stories that are 100% amazing, 100% adventurous, 100% unbelievable—and 100% true. A star-studded group of award-winning nonfiction authors and journalists provides something for every reader, all aligned with the Common Core State Standards.”
With her friends, Massachusetts shark biologist Greg Skomal and photographer Keith Ellenbogen, Sy will be on the Cape in early July chasing great white sharks for her next book, The Great White Shark Scientist. Sy’s planning to stay on the boat this time, but come September, she’ll be diving with them — in a cage — off Guadeloupe. (Photo from clker.com, public domain clip art.)
Congratulations to Pati Medici. For her long-running tapir conservation project, Pati has been chosen as one of 20 new TED Fellows for 2014. The Tapir Scientist is all about Pati’s work in Brazil protect the threatened lowland tapir – the largest terrestrial mammal in South America.
The Tapir Scientist has been selected by Bank Street College of Education as one of The Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2014.
Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot, has been nominated for a 2015 Grand Canyon Reader Award.
The Grand Canyon Reader Award is chosen by children. Approximately 45,000 Arizona students vote each year. Kakpo Rescue, along with nine other nonfiction books, will be read by teachers, librarians, and students all over Arizona and voted upon by April 1, 2015.
As “The Animalist”, former Boston Globe reporter Vicki Croke brings us news about the natural world. Vicki and Sy are kindred spirits, so it was a great pleasure to have Vicki visit.
Vicki asked Sy: Do you feel as though you’ve learned, not just about an animal’s natural history, but lessons about life for yourself?
Sy answered: How to be a good creature. How do you be compassionate?… I think that animals teach compassion better than anything else and compassion doesn’t necessarily just mean a little mouse with a sore foot and you try to fix it. It means getting yourself inside the mind and heart of someone else. Seeing someone’s soul, looking for their truth. Animals teach you all of that and that’s how you get compassion and heart.” Watch a video of the interview here.
Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cats has been chosen as A Junior Library Guild Selection for Spring 2014. The Junior Library Guild’s honor is unique because it is awarded in advance of the publication date. Chasing Cheetahs will be published this April.
Booklist has chosen The Tapir Scientist as one of its Top Ten Books on Sustainability for Youth: 2014.
How Thinking in Pictures Brought Temple Grandin Success. The fourth, fifth and sixth graders who are part of Wolcott Elementary School’s Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Club have been reading Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World. Many of the students wanted to know more about Temple Grandin’s work with animals. Others were interested in how Sy researched and wrote her books.
Sy answered their questions on Vermont Public Radio. You can listen or read a transcript of the short interview here.
Laurie Marker. She has dedicated her life to saving cheetahs.
Cheetahs are coming. Sy’s newest book in the acclaimed Scientists in the Field series will be published this April. Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cat features Nic Bishop’s award-winning photography. Read about the making of Chasing Cheetahs here.
Temple Grandin has won a 2014 Norman A. Sugarman Children’s Biography Award Honor. The Sugarman Award is given biennially by the Cleveland Public Library to honor excellence in the field of biography for children. Endowed by the Joan G. Sugarman family, the Norman A. Sugarman Children’s Biography Award was established in 1998.
Portrait of a writer. Age two:
Q. What came first, the fascination with and love of nature or the desire to write? When did the two intersect?
A. I loved animals and plants long before I could read or write. I am told that before I was two, I toddled inside the hippo pen at the Frankfurt zoo—and the massive hippos were apparently quite welcoming and did not (obviously) bite me in half, as they are prone to do to humans in similar circumstances in the wild.
From an interview with Sy in The Penmen Review, Southern New Hampshire University Online Journal for Creative Writers. Read more of the interview here.
Go pig, go! There are now 100,000 copies of The Good Good Pig in paperback, and more than 40,000 copies in hardcover in the U.S. and Canada. And Christopher Hogwood has ventured overseas in Dutch, British, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Portuguese editions.
The Tapir Scientist has been chosen as an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12 for 2014. This list is a cooperative project of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the Children’s Book Council.
The Journal of Children’s Literature Fall 2013 issue has a long interview with Sy Montgomery and the photographer Nic Bishop. Working together in the field they have created seven acclaimed children’s books. They have followed scientists in the field as they study snakes (18,000 in one big pit!), tarantulas, tree kangaroos (who knew that kangaroos climbed trees?), snow leopards, kakapos (“the world’s strangest parrot”), tapirs and cheetahs (forthcoming).
What’s next? Octopuses. But Sy does listen to her readers: “I have piles of great letters from kids. One child urged me to write about eels to show they don’t just want to electrocute people. I thought that was great.”
Thinking Deep. Sy will be the first of a dozen speakers at the day-long TEDx AmoskeagMillyard 2013. The day’s theme is “Mindset.” Sy’s talk is titled: “Thinking Deep: Octopus Mind, Eel Dreams and the Consciousness of the Other 99%.” Watch the TEDx talks streamed live, starting at 9 am here.
National Book Month 2013. The New York Public Library has created this guide to the Best Children’s Books of 2013. And who’s that we see waiting for readers, age 12 to 14, but our favorite tapir. This is a clever, inviting map that directs young readers to the next book. See it here.
The Octopus Whisperer. A short interview with Sy about her work with the octopus scientists on Moorea (near Tahiti). “You put on your wetsuit, go down with an underwater dive slate, and set about administering a personality test to octopus,” she said. “So you float there and take notes like a psychologist on whether this particular octopus to advances or retreats, changes color or reaches out, and so on.” That’s Sy at work underwater. Read more: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/octopus-whisperer-183901707.html
Just published: The Tapir Scientist: Saving South America’s Largest Mammal
If you’ve never seen a lowland tapir, you’re not alone. Most of the people who live near tapir habitat in Brazil’s vast Pantanal (“the Everglades on steroids”) haven’t seen the elusive snorkel-snouted mammal, either. In this arresting nonfiction picture book, Sibert winners Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop join a tapir-finding expedition led by the Brazilian field scientist Pati Medici. Aspiring scientists will love the immediate, often humorous “you are there” descriptions of fieldwork, and gadget lovers will revel in the high-tech science at play, from microchips to the camera traps that capture the “soap opera” of tapir life.
The Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards are given annually to the children’s books published the preceding year that effectively promote the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and the equality of the sexes and all races as well as meeting conventional standards for excellence. The awards have been presented annually since 1953 by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and the Jane Addams Peace Association.
A Snake Cake — as well as a fabulous banner, good questions and student performances — greeted Sy at her presentation April 18 at Cutler School in Swanzey, NH
Fourth and fifth graders at Chamberlain School in South Burlington, Vermont showered Sy with their great artwork and letters after they talked by Skype. Some students had suggestions for subsequent books. Taken under consideration!
Consider a Skype session: Sy is dramatically limiting her appearances over the next 9 to 12 months as she concentrates on researching and writing her book on octopus. But happily, there’s Skype. Readers can visit with Sy in her office, meet her border collie and watch as Sy shares some of her treasures, including the shed exoskeleton of a tarantula and the beak of an octopus. Email Sy for details: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sy’s newest book for kids, Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo, sold out at its debut March 1 in New York at the Barnes and Noble on 86th Street. With video of Snowball dancing and talks by Sy, illustrator Judith Oksner and Irena Schulz, the founder of Snowball’s bird rescue, Bird Lovers Only, the New York event drew more than 100 people, including kids from three schools.
The dancing cockatoo is a charmer, but at Abby Emerson’s 5th Graders at La Cima Charter School in Brooklyn they love The Tarantula Scientist.
New book. All my proceeds go to benefit Bird Lovers Only.
Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo, for kids in grades 3 and up, is the true story of how an unwanted cockatoo achieved international fame as a YouTube sensation, television star, and scientific study subject, all by rocking out to the beat of his favorite tunes.
Snowball tells the story (well, this is what he would have said if his language skills were as good as his dancing.) But everything he says is true, including how he inspired the World’s First Bird Dance-Off Contest, became the subject of a groundbreaking study about music and the brain, and has now gone into teaching children how to dance and doing charity work.
The book is illustrated with the whimsical paintings of my friend, Judith Oksner.
All author’s proceeds from this book go to benefit Bird Lovers Only, the bird rescue where Snowball now lives.
How to get the book?
— Order through Birdloversonly.org (all these copies are signed by Sy and Judith!)
— Order through University Press of New England at www.upne.com/0872331563.html
— Ask for it at your local independent bookstore (the ISBN is 978-087233-156-3)
My friend and master quilter Mary Strzelec of Lynnwood, WA created this fabulous work of fabric art celebrating the Giant Pacific Octopus, star of my book-in-progress.
What an incredible gift! While others can sleep in the arms of Morpheus, I can sleep wrapped in the eight arms and 16,000 suckers of Enteroctopus dofleni–sans slime. Mary’s husband, Mike, has been an indispensable help with the book, discovering all sorts of obscure cephalapodan information.
Temple Grandin has been selected for the list of Notable Social Studies Trade Books for 2013. This list is a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies and the Children’s Book Council.
At Heavy Medal, a School Library Journal blog, they have convened a “mock” Newbery Award contest, and thrown opening the judging for discussion. Temple Grandin is one of the books under consideration. Here’s what Heavy Medal says about Temple Grandin:
“Though I always point out that ‘no book is flawless,’ I’ve been hard pressed to find the flaws in this seamless and engaging read. Montgomery creates a “you are there” feeling both without intruding as author, but also while being totally transparent as author. It is clear, from the way she constructs her sentences and from her backmatter explanations, how she has put together each piece of her vivid narrative from interviews and other sources. This is not flashy writing, and the emotional punch always comes from the story itself, not from the heavy hand of an author driving it home. “Heart-warming-ness” of the story aside (which is where the Newbery committee will have to put it), this is a wonderfully constructed piece of nonfiction, tuned perfectly to its audience in every respect.”
Temple Grandin is on the CCBC Choices list for 2013. CCBC Choices is the annual best-of-the-year list of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has chosen Temple Grandin as the recipient of the 2013 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books.
The AAAS prize celebrates outstanding science writing and illustration for children and young adults. This year’s finalists were selected by a panel of librarians, scientists, and science literacy experts. They chose the four winners out of nearly 170 books up for consideration.
The judges note: “Sy Montgomery’s excellent biography of Temple Grandin focuses not just on Grandin’s research and accomplishments, but also on the role her autism played not just in terms of obstacles, but also in terms of opportunities to see things differently. This is also an important message for children with autism or other disabilities because it provides them with a role model who broke barriers and made significant contributions to science and to society.”
The AAAS award will be presented in Boston in February.
Magnificent! The School Library Journal blog, Fuse #8, has chosen Temple Grandin as one of the One Hundred Magnificent Children’s Books of 2012.
Temple Grandin has been chosen by the New York Public Library as one of its One Hundred Children’s’ Books for Reading and Sharing.
The National Science Teachers Association has named Temple Grandin one of its Outstanding Science Trade Books of the year: “The autobiography of the autistic expert on animal treatment will be inspirational to a subset of students as well as to all readers.”
The Mind of the Octopus: “They’re so different from us. They can taste with their skin, have no bones, they can squeeze through a tiny opening, oozing as if they are a liquid themselves. A hundred pound giant pacific octopus can get through the opening the size of an orange. I mean unbelievable. But what I think is even more unbelievable is the fact that these guys have developed intelligence and emotions and personalities that are enough like ours that we can recognize them as such,”
The Wisconsin Public Radio show, To the Best of Our Knowledge, interviews Sy:
The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2012 has been published. Sy’s Orion story on the octopus, “Deep Intellect,” is part of this collection.
There’s a thorough interview with Sy at: http://www.highsmith.com/librarysparks/pages/web-resources-current
Sy talks about Temple Grandin, The Snake Scientist, Quest for the Tree Kangaroo, and about all sorts of other animals.
Highlights for Children
In its September issue, Highlights for Children ran a story on Sy’s children’s books, “Adventures with Animals: Pink Dolphins and Tree Kangaroos Inhabit the books of writer Sy Montgomery”. The story was written by Sy’s friend and neighbor, the children’s book writer Marcia Amidon Lusted, who lives up the street!
“Meet the Author” movie
A “Meet the Author” movie of Sy, filmed at home in Hancock, NH (with a guess appearance by Sally, her border collie) is now among the excellent videos available to teachers and librarians who have joined teachingbooks.net.
At the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia
Sy spent the first part of June at the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia, bathing in cheetah purrs and researching a new Scientists in the Field book with photographer Nic Bishop. CHASING CHEETAHS: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cat, features CCF founder Laurie Marker and her staff’s extraordinary conservation work, and will be published next year. Nic Bishop took this photo of one of the very tame young cheetahs there who was captured by a farmer in infancy—so young he had to be bottle-fed to survive. Today he lives at CCF as an ambassador for his species, in the effort to protect wild cheetahs throughout their shrinking range.
At the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia
Book Links, ALA Booklist’s supplement for librarians and teachers, featured a long interview with Sy about her biography of Temple Grandin in May.
May 18, 2012
Temple Grandin, Sy Montgomery & Dr. James Birge
Naturalist and author Sy Montgomery, animal scientist Temple Grandin, and Franklin Pierce University (FPU) President James Birge shared a moment of celebration over Montgomery’s new book about Grandin just prior to the FPU Commencement Exercises on May 12th. Sy Montgomery was awarded an Honorary Degree at last year’s FPU Commencement; this year, she was on hand to see FPU alumna Dr. Temple Grandin receive an Honorary Degree and to hear her remarks upon acceptance of the honor.
Montgomery’s book, Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World, (published April 2012), is a tribute to Temple’s unique view of the world and how she brings her talents to improve the lives of humans and animals alike. Dr. Grandin is an autistic who uses her special way of seeing the world to design humane livestock facilities, and in doing advocacy work for people with autism. Montgomery remarked that Temple’s life “is a story of very broad compassion for those who can’t speak for themselves, both humans and animals. If not for the blessings of autism, these other minds, these minds and lives that are thinking and feeling, these lives would be so much more difficult – and our lives would be diminished.”
Octopus in Hebrew! Haaretz, in Jerusalem, has reprinted Sy’s Orion story. http://www.haaretz.co.il/magazine/1.1580659
Thomas Remp, a student photographer and writer Sy met during a visit to Franklin Pierce University, founded the website StudentatLarge.net to promote and inspire young people in their creative endeavors. Here’s his interview with Sy: http://www.studentatlarge.net/sy-montgomery.html
The Undercover Quilters strike again! This talented group of a dozen avid readers and quilters meet monthly create quilts inspired by their favorite books. The Good Good Pig was their first project.
You may recall seeing their quilts on display at the nationally-recognized Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, which is posted under the information about The Good Good Pig on this website: symontgomery.com/?page_id=848
Sy talked by speakerphone with about 30 children and their parents at the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library in Mansfield, Ohio on January 16. The children had read Kakapo Rescue and Quest for the Tree Kangaroo. Children’s Librarian Amanda Fensch set up the program. Sy thanks everyone for all the good questions.
One parent asked: How did you become interested in animals?
Sy’s answer: “I always loved animals, from the moment I could see. I was born in Germany, and before I was two I managed somehow to toddle into the hippo
pen at the zoo, to my parents’ horror. The hippos obviously didn’t bother me at
all, and I felt at ease among them.”
Sy began a busy December speaking schedule with the enthusiastic students at Thatcher Brook Primary School in Waterbury and Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, Vt.
Assemblies at both schools featured a Powerpoint show on some of the animals she’s met in her work. The kids correctly identified both the wombat and the tapir in the pictures!
At extended question-and-answer sessions for individual grades in the schools’ libraries, Sy’s books inspired thoughtful queries: How do you decide which animal/book to do next? How did the photographer take the close-ups of the tigers? What do you do if you get sick in the field? A boy always asked “What was the most dangerous animal you studied?” while a girl usually asked, “What was the cutest animal you’ve ever written about?” (The photo above was taken at Crossett Brook Middle School.)
Later on in the month, Sy spoke on her work “Off the Beaten Track” at the Peterborough Rotary’s well-attended luncheon, and Dec. 7, will speak on her first book “Walking with the Great Apes” as part of the Vermont Humanities Council’s First Wednesdays program in Montpelier, Vt. Later she’ll be driving down to Boston to WGBH to talk about octopuses.
Sy and Callie Crossley talk octopuses:
And there’s more octopus talk when Sy and Living on Earth visit the New England Aquarium:
Sy’s story “Deep Intellect” on the mind of the octopus in the November-December issue of Orion magazine is generating a great deal of interest in cephalopod consciousness!
The story was recommended:
as the top Longread of the week of November 1 on Longreads.com—picks of the best longform journalism stories of the week;
in Andrew Sullivan’s popular blog in The Daily Beast;
in the Boston Globe’s idea blog;
The story is featured in radio interviews with Sy on the national environmental radio show, Living on Earth and WRCT in Pittsburgh (we’ll post them when they’re released under “Media” on this website)
and in a live, online event, with New England Aquarium’s Scott Dowd and Animal Behaviorist Marc Bekoff hosted by Orion November 15 at 7 EST hosted by Orion (see story above for how to sign up and participate)
The story will also appear in Hebrew thanks to an Israeli news service!
Sy and Nic will be traveling to the world’s largest wetland, the Pantenal, in Brazil in search of tapirs with Brazilian researcher Pati Medici for a new book in their Scientists in the Field series.Though it looks like an elephant crossed with a pig, the tapir’s closest relatives are actually horses and rhinos! Above is a photo by Pati of an adorable striped and spotted baby; and below is Pati giving a captive lowland tapir a welcome scratch.
May 26, 2011:
Sy’s Book Birdology honored by the Boston Authors Club as a Highly Recommended book in its awards for 2010. Visit the club’s website at http://www.BostonAuthorsclub.org.
June 27, 2011:
Sy and collaborating photographer Nic Bishop will accept the Sibert Medal, the highest honor in America for nonfiction children’s literature, at the American Library Association’s meeting in New Orleans for their book Kakapo rescue.
May 21, 2011:
Sy awarded Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Southern New Hampshire University. She’ll be joining the faculty as an associate this summer for the Masters of Fine Arts program.
May 18, 2011:
New Hampshire Magazine honors Sy as one of six “Remarkable New Hampshire Women of the World” at a breakfast celebration at Bedford Village Inn.
Sy’s graduation speech at Franklin Pierce was chosen by The Chronicle of Higher Education in this year’s roundup story, featuring the five best and most insightful 2011 commencement speeches on college and university campuses nationwide.
May 14, 2011:
Sy and husband Howard Mansfield were awarded honorary Doctorates of Humane Letters by Franklin Pierce University.
At Franklin Pierce University, we prepare our students to make significant contributions to their professions and communities as citizens and leaders of conscience. Today, we honor an individual who has distinguished herself as an author, environmentalist, scientist and advocate of animal rights in this same tradition.
Sy Montgomery believes that only if we “learn to function as morally engaged citizens and be brave enough to lead others in sometimes difficult talks is there any hope of healing our poisoned, overcrowded world.” And, she has been ‘brave enough’ traveling to exotic and dangerous locations to research and tell the true insightful story.
This prolific and award-winning author has written over 15 books for both adults and children including the international bestseller, The Good Good Pig, about her relationship and love for her charismatic pig, Christopher Hogwood. She has never considered animals less than humans. Animals have always been her friends, teachers and inspiration. She has traveled from Cambodia to Brazil, from New Guinea to Mongolia, and beyond to learn from her animal teachers – the South East Asian golden moon bear, the tarantula, the Sundarban tiger.
Sy Montgomery, through her writings, has educated and inspired her readers to “treasure and protect this sweet green Earth.” She has revealed with the fine skill of her craft and vast knowledge of the vivid, rich lives of animals that, in the words of Henry Beston, are “gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear,” to bring us joy and deepen our understanding of this planet and all creatures. She has shown us that we can choose a new way and make a more compassionate world.
Because she is passionate and tireless in her dedication to the environment and all living species, because of her fearlessness in researching the beautiful yet often dangerous creatures in the wild, and because of her considerable humanity and the care she takes in telling accurate and compelling stories about these wild places and beautiful animals, Franklin Pierce University is proud, on this 14th day of May 2011, to confer upon Sy Montgomery the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.