HOW TO BE A GOOD CREATURE: Lessons in Living from Sy Montgomery

Lynn: Sy Montgomery is a familiar name to nature-loving readers of all ages. The author of more than 20 books, she is a National Book Award finalist and the recipient of many awards including the Sibert Award, the Henry Bergh Award for Nonfiction, and others. Her most recent book, How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals (2018), will appeal to teen readers but is also marketed to adults.

How to Be a Good Creature: a Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy MontgomeryThrough 13 vignettes reflecting on some of the animals who have influenced her most, Montgomery explores life, love, grief, relationships, family, and the deep connections between them all. I’ve long admired Montgomery and her writing but this short and wonderfully illustrated book is my favorite so far.

Readers familiar with Montgomery’s other adult books will be delighted to see familiar friends again, such as Christopher Hogwood, the sickly porcine runt who grew to be 750 pounds and charmed anyone who met him; the flock of hens dubbed the Ladies; and Octavia, the giant Pacific octopus. Other chapters recount Montgomery’s encounters with weasels, tarantulas, and emus. Some of the writing moved me to tears, especially the sections about her deep bonds with her border collie Tess and the overwhelming grief, deep depression, and suicidal thoughts she struggled with after Tess’s death. But despite every loss, Montgomery reflects, each new animal reminds her there is still so much to learn. “I am still learning to be a good creature,” she writes.

“I often wish I could go back in time and tell my young anxious self that my dreams weren’t in vain and my sorrows weren’t permanent. . . . I can tell you that teachers are all around to help you, with four legs or two or even eight; some with internal skeletons, some without. All you have to do is recognize them as teachers and be ready to hear their truths.”

Reflective, deeply personal, and extremely moving, this is a powerful reminder to observe and appreciate the complex nature of living creatures, the relationships we form, and the emotional wealth such connections bring us.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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