Meet the Fire Chief. A 42-pound, wild snapping turtle, Fire Chief was hit by a truck in 2018, his shell cracked and bloodied, his legs and tail paralyzed. But the 60- to 80-year-old turtle had a lot of life in him. At Turtle Rescue League, Sy and Matt were tasked with his physical therapy—which included exercising with his bespoke wheelchair. Read all about him in Of Time and Turtles. And watch the Chief here in this video.
Sy talks with Krys Boyd, host of KERA’s Think about the patience of turtles and the amazing work of the Turtle Rescue League. Listen here.
Otis and I are so excited to partner with @marinerbooks and @sytheauthor to give YOU the chance to win a hardcover copy of Sy’s brand new book “OF TIME AND TURTLES.” This book is incredible and includes work from my friend and favorite artist @stoneridgeartstudios! Sy is not only an incredibly talented author but she is the biggest sweetheart I think I’ve EVER met. She’s quite the fan of Otis too, ya know. #otistheturtle #oftimeandturtles #animalbooks #turtlebook #turtles #tortoises #turtlesofinstagram #reptilesofinstagram #saveturtles #turtleconservation #turtlenerd #wildlife #foryou #fyp #giveaway #gardenstatetortoise #babyturtle #babytortoise
Sy’s new book, Of Time and Turtles, will be published on September 19. Watch this short video about the book – 1 minute and 30 seconds – and count all the turtles. This video has more turtles per second than anything else you’re likely to see today. Watch here.
Sy had a wonderful Zoom talk with her new friend, Si Wu, a reporter with Sanlian Youth magazine in Bejing (circulation 150,000), which publishes articles on culture, history, science, and the arts for teenagers in China. She had copies of several of Sy’s books in Chinese and showed Sy the covers.
Sy and Matt had fun entering their float of a big paper mâché snapping turtle in Hancock’s Old Home Day parade. With one of the turtle ambulances at Turtle Rescue League in the lead, the snapping turtle –created by Matt Patterson–was heralded by Jason D. Adams playing the tuba and pulled by their young assistants, Ellis and Nora. The Big Turtle was honored as the Most Creative Float at Old Home Day. Everyone loves turtles.
The Denver Book Club gives How to Be A Good Creature three out of four stars. In The Denver Post, reader Neva Gronert says, “Highly recommended for all animal lovers. (And now I want to read her other books.)”
LibraryReads is a list of the top ten books published this month that library staff across the country have voted on as their favorites. For September LibraryReads has chosen Of Time and Turtles
Booklist gives Of Time and Turtles a starred review:
Lauded nature writer Montgomery has enthralled readers with her avidly chronicled adventures with octopuses, hummingbirds, and hawks. This time turtles take over her life…. An entrancing storyteller who illuminates facts and feelings with sterling precision, Montgomery recounts dramatic and sweet interactions with these “unlikely, surprising animals,” describing a wondrous array of personalities, including that of the astoundingly resilient, attentive, and gigantic snapper called Fire Chief. … Deeply affected by these highly intelligent, sensitive earthlings, Montgomery contemplates how nature marks “turtle time, renewing the covenants that keep the world alive and offering us the stuff of eternity.”
Find out how Sy answered these questions:
* Would you jump at an opportunity to go into space? Why or why not?
* Have you ever been bitten by an animal, wild or domestic?
* Which of your book subjects or characters haunts you the most?
And more. Read the interview here.
Sy met “awesome turtles and awesome people” at the 21st annual symposium on The Conservation of Biology of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles in Charleston, South Carolina. Sy gave the keynote address about her forthcoming book, On Time and Turtles: Mending the World, Shell by Shattered Shell.
Sy talks turtles with Donna Sherman on the Sparks in Action Podcast: Uplifting Each Other One Action at a Time.
Sy has been honored with the Ruth & James Ewing Arts Awards for Literary Arts. This is what the presenter said:
Sy Montgomery’s love of animals was frightfully apparent at an early age. She tells the story of breaking free from her parents at the Franklin Zoo, to be discovered later in the hippo pen, seemingly at ease and undaunted by one of the wild’s most dangerous creatures.
“I was fine, and the hippo was fine,” she says. “My parents were not fine!”
Sy is the author of 35 nonfiction books about nature and animals, and a winner of a Ruth and James Ewing Arts Awards for literary arts this year. Through her extensive travels, she says, “I’ve just met the most incredible people and the most incredible turtles. And I’ve met incredible dolphins, and I’ve met incredible tigers and I’ve met incredible snow leopards. The animals always come through. They always show you something astonishing.”
At one point, she had wanted to be a veterinarian, but her father had been reading her newspaper news stories about animals under threat in the wild. Her calling, as it turned out, was to educate readers, particularly children, about the wonders of animal life.
She majored in magazine journalism, French language and literature and psychology at Syracuse University, where she met her husband, Howard Mansfield, also a winner this evening.
After graduating in 1979, took reporting jobs in New York and New Jersey. While in New Jersey, her father gave her a ticket to Australia, but Sy wasn’t going to be a tourist. She joined Earthwatch, which pairs volunteers with scientific and conservation projects around the world. The organization connected her with a wombat preserve in southern Australia.
“The principal investigator for that project … could see that I was on fire to do this, that I just was in my element and I loved it.”
So, she quit her newspaper job and moved to the Outback. Her newsroom experience influenced her writing, honoring a rule that writing must be understandable.
“Children are just as smart as adults … but they haven’t been alive long enough to have the same vocabulary or to be exposed to so many of the concepts that we take for granted. So, you just put yourself in their shoes,” she says.
Sy takes a field journal with her on all trips and writes a nightly essay. After a couple of years of this, she’s ready to merge them into a book. “You don’t want to start until you kind of know where you’re going to end.”
Sy and Matt were welcomed by the turtle faithful at Water Street Books in Exeter, New Hampshire.
Sy and Matt enjoyed their visit to Left Bank Books in Belfast, Maine. So many readers came they had to move to a bigger space across the street at First Church. They sold out of The Book of Turtles — but Sy and Matt signed a stack of full-color, oversize, turtle-themed bookplates for the next batch of books that are coming.
Kids Book A Day is a book blog by Janet Dawson. She’s the librarian at the Rebecca Johnson Elementary School in Springfield, Massachusetts. Janet recently recommended The Book of Turtles:
“Pros: Montgomery has a knack for focusing on facts and information that will be of most interest to readers. The acrylic paintings look almost like photos and show incredible details of a wide variety of turtles. Kids who already love turtles will be thrilled, and others may become fans after reading this book.
“Cons: I wish this book had been around during my daughter’s decade-long obsession with turtles.”
Reviewers love The Book of Turtles.:
Publishers Weekly: “Montgomery and Patterson astonish with this fact-driven turtle tribute…. Every page is an authoritative delight in this conservation-minded ode poised to turn anyone into a turtle lover.”
Also in Publishers Weekly, Kenny Brechner, owner of DDG Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, notes the bestselling children’s books of the season, saying: “The presence of Sy Montgomery’s The Book of Turtles on the list was no surprise both because we put it right by the counter and because it is amazing. What a sublime concordance of information and imagery.”
The Horn Book: “Sometime around 240 million years ago—about the time of the first dinosaurs, and 9 million years before the first crocodile—the shell invented the turtle.” With this cheekily thought-provoking opening sentence, acclaimed science writer Montgomery introduces turtles to young readers.”
Publishers Weekly is out with the first review of Sy’s new book to be published this fall, Of Time and Turtles: “In this moving outing, National Book Award finalist Montgomery reports on the efforts of the Turtle Rescue League…. Montgomery captures the joy in the team’s successes and the sorrow in their losses.... It’s an enjoyable if at times somber account of the everyday travails of dedicated conservationists.”
When Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation was published in 1975, it changed the world – not immediately, but ever since. It’s a landmark work, like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), or Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). And like those books, Animal Liberation was mocked and attacked. Singer was dismissed for saying that animals have rights and should be treated with respect.
But ever since then, Singer’s call to treat animals humanely is reforming the world. The European Union, for example, now bans hen cages, tight pig stalls, and veal crates. At least nine states have adopted these standards. McDonalds and the largest supermarket chains will sell only cage-free eggs by 2026.
When Sy read Singer’s book, back in the early 1980s, she immediately became a vegetarian. The book has had a similar effect on New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who says, “For the last half-dozen years, I’ve avoided meat, in part, because of Singer’s writing.” (Read Kristof’s column, “The Revolution on Your Plate.” June 11, 2023. It may be behind a paywall.)
Kristof also “stopped eating octopus after reading a book about their intelligence and empathy.” Hmm… could that be The Soul of an Octopus? — A book by a writer who was inspired by Peter Singer. This is one way change happens.
Singer has issued an updated edition, Animal Liberation Now. Pick it up and continue the revolution.
Sy is thrilled to have been honored in the name of her friend and collaborator, photographer Eleanor Briggs — founder of the visionary Harris Center for Nature Conservation in Hancock, New Hampshire. At a ceremony that featured a moving speech by Eleanor, another by Sy, and four live turtles, Sy received the first of what shall now be an annual award, bestowed upon a conservationist whose work reflects Eleanor’s power to protect and celebrate our environment.
The Paso Robles City Library in California has selected The Soul of an Octopus as its featured book for the month of June. Readers will gather to discuss all things octo on June 21.
Atlas Obscura says that you should read The Soul of an Octopus — “a captivating dive into the mysterious world of octopuses.” It’s one of “Seven Books to Inspire Your Next Nature Adventure.”
Townsend, Massachusetts, celebrates The Book of Turtles with this storywalk at their library.
On the road with Sy and Matt. Here are a few scenes from Sy and Matt’s West Coast book tour for The Book of Turtles:
They are in Washington State thanks to The Book of Turtles, but they are meeting octopus fans as well. This young ceph-lover joined them after Sy’s Studium Generale presentation at Peninsula College to screen the excellent film My Octopus Teacher.
They also visited the Kitsap library, greeting an SRO crowd for their evening reading, after stopping by the Poulsbo Sea Discovery Center (seen above). They ended the day on the ferry to Seattle where they talked turtles at Third Place Books in Lake Forest.
Catch Sy and Matt on the air for World Turtle Day, May 23:
Having arrived in California, Sy and Matt are making new friends at the Turtle Conservancy in Ojai (below).
Sy talks to Sam Matey for his substack newsletter, The Weekly Anthropocene. They discuss some of Sy’s animal adventures with wombats in the Outback, tigers in Bangladesh, whales in the Caribbean, octopuses near and far, and turtles, rehabilitated and freed. Read this fine interview here.
Booklist loves The Book of Turtles. In a starred review, Booklist says that Sy “is in her element here, sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm for turtles with readers. The book’s spare design creates a showcase for Patterson’s lifelike acrylic paintings of turtles viewed from every angle, including g a cutaway picture of a turtle’s bones and shell. A beautiful, informative introduction to turtles.”
The Voyages of Sy Montgomery. See the entire map here.
Gloucester Loves Polly. Cape Ann magazine has chosen “The top Gloucester-related books of all time.” On a list that includes Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm and childhood-favorite Virginia Lee Burton’s Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, there is Polly, our seabird hero of the harbor: The Seagull and The Sea Captain by Sy Montgomery with fine illustrations by Amy Schimler-Safford.
This early and enthusiastic reader is Otis – New Jersey’s rising internet star. His first online video drew half a million views. Otis is an exceptionally personable Eastern Box Turtle who lives at Garden State Tortoise, a reptile rescue and breeding facility.
Sy and turtle artist extraordinaire Matt Patterson are going back to college in May. They’ll be in residence at Peninsula College on Puget Sound in Washington State:
What time is it? It’s turtle time. Sy and artist Matt Patterson’s new turtle book is here. Watch a short video with lots of cool turtles walking around.
Look! Adorned with compelling art by the inimitable Matt Patterson, here’s the brand-new cover for Sy’s September nonfiction book, Of Time and Turtles: Mending the World, Shell by Shattered Shell (Mariner Books/HarperCollins). You can pre-order online, ask your local indie bookseller, or come meet Sy and Matt at their local bookstore, The Toadstool Bookshop, Peterborough, New Hampshire.
The Good Good Pig has just had its 23rd paperback printing. There are now 125,000 paperbacks in print.
Sy enjoyed catching up with the amazing Temple Grandin at the Tucson Book Festival. A dozen years ago, Sy first got to know Temple when she was writing Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World.
Sy visits NASA’s Goddard Center – Virtually. She’ll be talking about How to be a Good Creature, Wednesday, March 8, 10 to 11 am. You can watch here.
And on Saturday, March 18, Sy will be at:
Sy says: “One of the most exciting (human) encounters of my life was meeting Alan Alda and introducing him to Rudy the Giant Pacific Octopus. He and producer Graham Chedd had me as a guest again on his splendid podcast Clear and Vivid — which can be heard February 21.” Listen to all the great episodes of Alan’s podcast.
Creatures on the move. Coming out in paperback this year: Condor Comeback (May), The Hyena Scientist (August), Becoming a Good Creature (September), and next spring, The Magnificent Migration (April 2024).
You can now listen to Sy reading one of her earliest books, Search for The Golden Moon Bear, which was published in 2002. Listen to a sample.
Wayback Machine. Sy recently came across this old newspaper clipping from The Boston Globe, circa 1996. Back then Sy was writing a nature column for the Globe’s science section. A reader wrote in to find out if she was related to another of the Globe’s writers:
Sy is delighted to see The Hawk’s Way honored by The Christian Science Monitor as one of the Best Books of 2022. Check out all the good books here.
Love Little Lives. Sy enjoyed her visit to the Concord Museum to sign books and meet some of her fans at the annual Family Trees gathering. The Concord Museum, fresh off a sparkling expansion, looked festive with Christmas trees throughout. This one is decorated to celebrate Sy’s book, Becoming a Good Creature. Christopher Hogwood rules the tree from on high. Sy was the honorary chair of this year’s event. “Family Trees is one of the happiest and funnest events I know,” Sy says. “Kids, holidays, and reading–what could be better? What an honor it is to be honorary chair of this wonderful event. I can’t wait to connect with all the families this year and hang out with the kids amid the beautiful, decorated trees–presided over by the surely-smiling spirits of Emerson and Thoreau.”
Everybody out of the pool! Sy’s baby Blanding’s turtles, who she’s head-starting (with a Massachusetts state permit) for release in the spring, enjoy basking together on their platform in the full-spectrum light of the heat lamp. Sy says: “I love them so much!”
An Island Meets an Octopus. The Nantucket Atheneum has announced its choice for its 2023 One Book, One Island community read. This winter Nantucket’s readers have voted to read and discuss, The Soul of an Octopus.
What a treat for Sy to share a panel and book signing with two greats — Tony Hiss (Rescuing the Planet) and Jack Davis (The Bald Eagle). Sy thanks to everyone at the Miami Book Fair.
The Urda family bedecked this beautiful tree with scenes from Sy’s Becoming a Good Creature. Each December, Friends of the Townsend, Ma., library and senior center invites visitors to enjoy over 50 trees decorated with scenes and characters from favorite books.
Sy met her buddy Fire Chief, a snapping turtle, in rehab at a turtle hospital. She helped the Chief do physical therapy to strengthen his legs. Fire Chief was injured when a truck ran him over. “Fire Chief looks as big as a dinosaur, but he’s gentle as a puppy,” says Sy. A few months ago, Fire Chief left the hospital. He now lives in a pond that Matt Patterson, turtle artist supreme, dug for him. Above: Fire Chief with Matt and his wife Erin, and with Sy and Matt.
Sy’s friend, the incredibly talented author and translator, Heide Sommer, at her recent reading from her translation of Soul of an Octopus at a 17th Century Lutheran chapel in Itzehoe, Germany. She found an enthusiastic audience of octo-lovers.
An excerpt from Tamed and Untamed, which Sy wrote with her best friend Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, was recently published in Revista de Universidad de Mexico — a monthly publication devoted to the dissemination of science and culture. It is affiliated with the prestigious Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico and directed by the esteemed writer Guadaloupe Nettel. Read the Spanish translation here.
What genres do you especially enjoy reading and which do you avoid?
I avoid romance novels. The books I really enjoy are either about animals or science fiction. I loved Merle’s Door, by Ted Kerasote. Many dogs today live really restricted lives and they have no normal dog social life. Another favorite is The Soul of the Octopus, by Sy Montgomery. It really made me think about consciousness. Read more about the other books Temple likes, here.
Sy addresses the Nation. What better way to start off Octopus month than to address the ‘Nation—OctoNation, that is. Sy Loved talking with founder Warren Carlyle and the good folks who adore cephs of all kinds, but especially our fav! Happy Octopus month, friends. OctoNation® – The Largest Octopus Fan Club! ·
Sy is just back from making some fabulous new friends in New Jersey. She says “it was a blast watching 800 students at the James Caldwell High School file in to meet me in the auditorium.” The whole school read Sy’s How to be a Good Creature over the summer. She even got to meet this lovely bearded dragon in a science class.
Sy is honored to lead off the new Radiolab show by the always amazing Lulu Miller: Terrestrials. The first show is about octopuses. Give it a listen. Lulu has such a lively, smart approach; she could be part octo herself. Oh, and listen with your kids. This is a kid’s show.
And watch this jaunty Octo video by Terrestrials.
Octos (and Hawks and More) Rock Her World. Andrea Barrett, a novelist and short story writer who won the National Book Award for Ship Fever, admires writers of natural history. The New York Times Book Review asked her about what she is reading. Among the questions:
Are there researchers or popular science writers you especially admire?
Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life rocked my world; ditto Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk, Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus, Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction and Scott Weidensaul’s A World on the Wing. I’ll read anything written by Jonathan Weiner or Richard Panek. Rachel Carson remains a touchstone.
Sy is honored to have her words from The Hummingbird’s Gift provide a home for an immured sonnet, written by nurse Alex Butler to welcome his new baby daughter. Don’t know what an immured sonnet is? Read on!
Sy enjoyed discussing The Hawk’s Way on 90.5 WICN public radio. Listen here.
Sy joined Diane Rehm for her Book Club podcast. This month’s book was Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdad’s Sing. Diane was also joined by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, author of The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You and Jean Zimmerman, author of The Orphanmaster and Savage Girl. Listen here.
Welcome home, Bonaparte! About 100 people turned out to wish this oldest denizen of Springfield, Mass., and a number of his turtle companions, a happy return to Watershops Pond. The turtles fled the pond when it was drained to repair a dam. Thank you, Turtle Rescue League, for saving the turtles and housing them for the past year. And thank you to all who joined us to celebrate.
“The best summer reads for 2022 by New Hampshire authors” from New Hampshire Magazine: “You can discover the wondrous world of one of nature’s fiercest creatures, the hawk, with Sy Montgomery, follow Ken Sheldon down the rabbit hole of a WWI-era true crime story, distract yourself by trying to untangle the (fictional) mystery in “Whirlybird Island” by Ernest Hebert, get literary with a volume of poetry by Rebecca Kaiser Gibson and much more.”
To celebrate Sy’s new picture book, The Seagull and the Sea Captain, the sea captain himself, Captain Heath Ellis, invited passengers on a commemorative sail out of Gloucester harbor onboard his schooner, The Lannon. Sy, along with the book’s artist Amy Schimler-Safford (who came up from Georgia!), and Sy’s BFF Heidi Bell joined a boatload of avid readers for a reading from the new book. And best of all, the book’s other star, Polly the five-toed seagull, appeared from the sky to enjoy a treat of oyster crackers, and a round of applause! Everyone got a commemorative pin and a sticker designed by Amy. All the kids got a Polly the Seagull stuffed toy, and all the books were signed by the author, the artist, the Captain – including a five-toed stamp to show that Polly had really appeared.
Hawk Watch. The Hawk’s Way is number one on the New England Independent Booksellers Association hardcover nonfiction list. And it’s number six on the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association list.
Guess whooo joined Sy at the Odyssey Bookshop in S. Hadley, Mass., recently. Many thanks to the wonderful Tom Riccardi who shared the company of these ambassador birds from his Massachusetts Bird of Prey Rehabilitation Facility. (They are: great horned owl; peregrine, and sawhet owl.)
Q & A. The Boston Globe interviewed Sy for a short Q & A that ran in the June 22 edition. Here’s two of those questions with answers
Q & A. The Boston Globe interviewed Sy for a short Q & A that ran in the June 22 edition. Here’s two of those questions with answers:
Q: And what did the hawks teach you?
A: The transformative value of loving someone without expecting them to love you back. That frees you as if you have grown wings. So many relationships are transactional. Getting to know hawks allows you to have another kind of love — an extremely pure, wild love that opens up your soul.
Q: You make clear in the book that falconry is dangerous. What hooked you?
A: Being so close to pure wildness. I wasn’t afraid. It was worth the risk to be so close to these birds. Any bird you’re hunting with has the option to fly away.
Octopi Not. The novelist Geraldine Brooks was recently talking to The New York Times Book Review about what’s she has enjoyed reading. The Times asked her:
What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?
Brooks answered: “That the plural of octopus is octopuses, not octopi, since you can’t put a Latin “i” ending on a Greek word. Just one of the interesting things I learned from “The Soul of an Octopus,” by Sy Montgomery.”
Hooked on Octos. Debbie McIntosh of Littletown, Colorado, made this octopus hooked rug after being inspired by The Soul of an Octopus. The rug is hooked in monochromatic green wools in the “steampunk style,” says McIntosh.
Thurber coaches Sy as she reads from The Hawk’s Way at Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, NH.
How to be a Good Creature is now out in Korea.
The Hawk’s Way arrives on the Boston Globe’s local bestseller list at number 5 on the hardcover nonfiction list for May 15.
… and a week later The Hawk’s Way is number 2 on the Boston Globe bestseller list.
Talking Hawks. Sy has been talking about her new book, The Hawk’s Way:
Boston Public Radio. Every two weeks Sy talks with Jim Braude & Margery Eagan on their WGBH radio show Boston Public Radio. It’s all about critters, of course. Her section of the show is called The Afternoon Zoo, and Sy does her best to get as many animals as she can into the mix in her 15 or 20 minute visit.
Most recently she was talking with Jim & Margery about her new book, The Hawk’s Way. At the end Jim said, “You are amazing. Not only your relationship with other species. This book is so terrific and gives such insight in ways I couldn’t even imagine. You’re amazing Sy.” Listen to the interview here.
Here & Now. (WBUR & NPR). Sy tells host Robin Young that “working with hawks requires the purest form of love.”
What Matters Most. Sy loves talking with her generous and insightful friend Paul Dolman on his appropriately-named podcast What Matters Most. Hear their conversation about hawks, wildness, and the meaning of love here.
Psychology Today interview: “The Hearts and Souls of Passionate, Grudge-Holding Hawks.”
You can also find interviews with Sy in these magazines, websites, and radio shows: New England Pet and Home, New Hampshire Magazine, Earth Food Life,, Living On Earth — PRX, Public Radio Exchange (Live show at NH Audubon Center), Where We Live — Connecticut Public Radio, Troy Public Radio – Serving Alabama, S.W. Georgia & the Florida Panhandle, KWMR radio — Pt. Reyes California, Dave Nemo Weekends — SiriusXM, The Not Old Better Show — Smithsonian Institute, Pet Life Radio, and these podcasts: Keen On, Inquiring Minds, Mongabay, Sparks in Action, A Way to Garden with Margaret Roach, Wayne D. King, NH Secrets, Legends & Lore, and BookRiot.
And read an excerpt on LitHub: What Animals Can Show Us about More Meaningfully Encountering the Wider World.
Sy thanks Gibson’s Bookstore for a fabulous, enthusiastic crowd at Tuesday’s reading. Sy also signed a pile of books there for those who couldn’t attend, so come get a copy if you’re in Concord.
The Hawk’s Way is the book trailer of the day at Shelf Awareness.
Sy picks her six favorite books for animal lovers. Read it here in The Week.
The New York Times asks: Where to Find Comfort in a World of Invasive Headlines? And answers: “In times of turmoil and loss, treasured nature books can offer solace and guidance.” And one of the books they recommend is Sy’s How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals. This a good list. Check out the other books here.
The Hawk’s Way is “gorgeously illuminating and deeply affecting,” writes Donna Seaman in American Library Association’s Booklist. It is “succinct, intimate and captivating.” She loved Tia Strombeck’s great color hawk photos, too. The Hawk’s Way will be published May 3.
Sy joined her good friend, Living on Earth radio host Steve Curwood, at New Hampshire Audubon’s McLane Center on May 25 for an in-depth conversation about The Hawk’s Way. before both a live and Zoom audience. The edited interview will be broadcast May 6 on 250 radio stations nationwide.
Sy is a Literary Light. She was honored at the 32nd Annual Literary Lights by the Associates of the Boston Public Library. Sy fellow honorees are Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Joseph Kannon, Meg Wolitzer and Patrick Radden Keefe. With her for the evening was her beloved HarperCollins editor, Kate O’Sullivan. Dr. Charlie Innis, the head vet at the New England Aquarium, introduced Sy. Here’s part of what he said:
We often become entangled in our human existence. We focus on our families, our careers, our possessions, the economy, politics. It’s easy to forget that we’re incredible biological creations, and that we’re surrounded by other incredible biological creations. Isn’t it amazing that I can lift my arm on demand, as my brain instantaneously communicates with my nerves and muscles using basic elements that were formed in the heart of stars; and complex molecules that have only developed here on earth. And isn’t it amazing that an octopus can do that with eight arms at once, with finer control than a human could ever achieve. But it is easy to forget how miraculous life is. Fortunately, we have Sy Montgomery to remind us.
I met Sy 10 or 12 years ago years ago when she became a groupie at New England Aquarium while researching her next book, The Soul of an Octopus. I am a veterinarian at the Aquarium, and Sy quickly took interest in our work. We now have many mutual non-human and human friends, and our interests and networks often intertwine. Sy’s 31 books (and counting) take us into the lives and consciousness and habitats of other living beings…. beings that have sensory capabilities, athletic skills, and biological histories far greater than our own. Sy has introduced her readers to familiar species, like gorillas, and cheetahs, and dogs; and many less familiar, like the pink dolphins of the Amazon, the tree kangaroos of New Guinea, the kakapo, a flightless giant parrot from New Zealand; octopuses from around the world, and spiders, and condors. She takes us to India, and Cambodia, and Rwanda, and Brazil, and New Hampshire, and Australia.
We learn a lot about Sy’s life in reading her books. She had no human brothers or sisters. But she had many non-human childhood family members: fish, and dogs, and lizards, and turtles. She found love and companionship and adventure through these relationships. We should all remember that animals can be so important to our families and our development, fighting off loneliness, and teaching compassion, and giving hope. In reading about her early life, we gain context for the changes that occur as one begins to know other beings and other places. We’re inspired to consider our own lives, and where we might go if we were more curious and adventurous, and what creatures we might meet, and what we might learn from them.
Sy recently said: “I feel sorry for people who only have friends of one species. I feel as sorry for them as people who only have friends of one race or socioeconomic class. It’s like being surrounded by a hall of mirrors. What are you ever going to learn? There are great souls and teachers everywhere. It is our job to recognize them.”
Learning and teaching are at the center of Sy’s world. Throughout her work she cites conventional teachers, but more often she describes what she has learned from other teachers… fishermen and women, hummingbirds, wildlife rehabilitators, worms, shamans, emus, the kids next-door, aquarists, and pigs. She often takes the most interest in the less obvious and the introverted. They teach her, and she teaches us. In describing the new human friends that she met during her expedition to study tigers in the swamps of India, she wrote, “They taught me how to listen for truth, even when it comes in stories that at first seem impossible—and how to look for wisdom in places that at first seem humble and poor.”
Sy has achieved notoriety. She’s been a finalist for the National Book Award, and she’s won many other distinctions. But she derives much more satisfaction in increasing our awareness and our amazement. She especially delights in educating children. Twenty-one of Sy’s books are written for children. The physicist Max Planck once said, “A new truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” This idea is not lost on Sy. Her books are creating an army of child conservationists and animal lovers. I’ve met some of them, and they’re incredible. Sy’s writing is helping these children to understand the complexity of living beings and the great risks that we all face.
So… On behalf of the children and the creatures and your many adult fans, thank you, Sy, for teaching us and inspiring us.
Anna-Grace and the Grace of Wild Animals. Anna-Grace is an inspiring young scientist, age 7. Her school has a “Living Wax Museum” day. Each student picks someone, dresses up as them, makes a poster and gives a presentation about the person. This year Anna-Grace chose to portray Sy. Her mother writes:
I read your book “The Soul of an Octopus” and it’s one of my favorite books. Even though I read it in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic I find myself frequently thinking of it and how truly little we know about the world and creatures around it. It had a profound impact on me. I then introduced my 7 year old daughter to your picture books and she was hooked. She has chosen to portray you in a Living Wax Museum presentation where the children pick someone, dress up as them, make a poster and give a presentation as the person. Anna-Grace has autism and is very passionate about animals and conservation efforts. She especially loves wild cats. She is a bookworm and can’t get enough of your books and had taken many of them out from the library to display next week at her presentation. It would be such an honor for her if you would respond to this email so that she is able to display your response with her project. I know you are so busy but hope you will find the time to respond for my little girl. Keep up the excellent work! You are very inspiring!
Another kindred spirit. Eisley’s first-grade class was asked to dress up as their favorite character from their favorite book. Eisley chose Becoming a Good Creature. She also wore a small backpack with some other creatures inside including a cheetah, an ostrich, and an octopus. She loves learning about all different animals, and wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. She often goes for walks in the woods with her mom, hoping to meet their own good creatures. Her mom says, “Eisley cares deeply for all living creatures, and is very interested in keeping the planet healthy and clean for all the animals who live here.”
Pigs We (Absolutely) Admire. Sy joined Steve Levitt to discuss her life and her writing for the podcast, People I (Mostly) Admire. The episode “No One Can Resist a Jolly, Happy Pig” was just released. You can listen and find the transcript here, or download on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.
People I (Mostly) Admire is hosted by Steven Levitt, a University of Chicago economist and co-author of the Freakonomics book series. Leavitt tracks down high achievers and asks questions that only he would think to ask. Guests include all-time Jeopardy! champion (and now host) Ken Jennings, YouTube C.E.O. Susan Wojcicki, W.N.B.A. champion Sue Bird, Operation Warp Speed chief Moncef Slaoui, and now Sy.
Tierisch Gute Freunde. Becoming a Good Creature is now available in German from Diogenes Verlag.
Thurber congratulates Matt Patterson for his fine paintings of turtles that are in the Spring 2022 issue of Orion with an excerpt from Sy’s forthcoming book Travels in Turtle Time, which will be published by HarperCollins in fall 2023.
Just published: The Seagull and The Sea Captain, Sy’s picture book with her artist and friend Amy Schimler-Safford. It’s the true story of an inter-species friendship. Here’s the cover, and a photo of the real captain and his herring gull friend, Polly. You can even sail on Capt. Ellis’ schooner, the Thomas E. Lannon, out of Gloucester Harbor.
Know your enemy. This grouse is studying up on a skilled adversary by reading an advance readers copy (or bound galley) of Sy’s forthcoming book, The Hawk’s Way to be published in May. Get a copy for the literate bird you know.
The Wonders of Life Underwater. Sy joined an all-star underwater line-up on the radio show and podcast Constant Wonder to talk about intelligent life in the sea. On the show are Craig Foster, the filmmaker who brought us the magical My Octopus Teacher, the marine biologist Helen Scales, author of the fabulous Poseidon’s Steed: The Story of Seahorses, from Myth to Reality, among other books, and Luke Harris, a high school junior at Horace Mann School in New York City who has created Inspired by the Deep, a competition for fellow students.Listen here.
Monet is eating again! Not bad for a baby turtle who was dead two weeks ago! (See below in the January news.) The key was providing tiny bits of food, including chopped dried mealworms (a birthday gift from Jack McWhorter) live mealworms (thanks to Blackfire Farm) and bits of ReptiSticks (green in the video). Sy reports, “I’m so happy!”
Eight Arms, Eight Decisions. Octopuses have a complex neural network running throughout their body. They can make different decisions for each arm without having to send messages back up to the central brain. How can this be? Sy discusses octopus consciousness on the BBC radio show, NatureBang in the episode, Octopuses and the Mind-Body Problem. Philosopher Julian Baggini, author of How the World Thinks, joins the discussion. Listen here.
Maria Popova in her blog The Marginalian – formerly called Brain Pickings – choses The Hummingbirds’ Gift as one of her favorite books of the past year. See all her picks here.
Sy petted an octopus, caressed a sea slug, and kanoodled with a giant clam; met a sea turtle resurrected from being poisoned, drowned and hooked, and a pelican whose pouch was under repair; and strolled the Ding Darling National Wildlife refuge and “shelled” at Sanibel Island’s famous beach. All thanks to the good folks at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, who invited her to speak on octopus at their 25th anniversary celebration, drawing a crowd of more than 200 people. Thanks also to Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) for saving that sea turtle, the pelican, and the 6,973 animal patients they saw last year.
Monet resurrected! On Saturday morning, January 22, Sy found one of her four baby painted turtles had drowned! Monet was stuck beneath their floating basking platform, trapped freakishly in a suction cup that had come undone. (This cup holds the platform in place.) But after 45 minutes of turtle CPR, he began breathing again — and now Monet is fine! In the photo he is recovering in his warm, dry hospital box, which I floated in the larger tank.
Should you ever need to revive a turtle, gently pull and push the turtle’s limbs in and out to get the lungs working, Gently pressing on the plastron may re-start the heart. Sy had seen this done once while visiting the wonderful Turtle Survival Alliance in South Carolina, and her friends at Turtle Rescue League in Southbridge, Mass., have used it several times to successfully revive drowned turtles.
The New Hampshire Union Leader has caught up with the story. Read it here.