Cover image for How to be a good creature : a memoir in thirteen animals
How to be a good creature : a memoir in thirteen animals
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, [2018]

Physical Description:
200 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
A naturalist and adventurer discusses the personalities and quirks of thirteen animals who have profoundly affected her, exploring themes of learning to become empathetic, creating families, coping with loss, and the otherness and sameness of people and animals.
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1000L Lexile


Material Type
Call Number
Book 590 Montg
Book 590 Montg
Book 590 Montg
Book 590 Montg
Book 590 Montg

On Order



A New York Times bestseller!

National Book Award finalist Sy Montgomery reflects on the personalities and quirks of 13 animals--her friends--who have profoundly affected her in this stunning, poetic, and life-affirming memoir featuring illustrations by Rebecca Green.

Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative. No one knows this better than author, naturalist, and adventurer Sy Montgomery. To research her books, Sy has traveled the world and encountered some of the planet's rarest and most beautiful animals. From tarantulas to tigers, Sy's life continually intersects with and is informed by the creatures she meets.

This restorative memoir reflects on the personalities and quirks of thirteen animals--Sy's friends--and the truths revealed by their grace. It also explores vast themes: the otherness and sameness of people and animals; the various ways we learn to love and become empathetic; how we find our passion; how we create our families; coping with loss and despair; gratitude; forgiveness; and most of all, how to be a good creature in the world.

Author Notes

Sy Montgomery was born on February 7, 1958 in Frankfurt, Germany. She is a 1979 graduate of Syracuse University, a triple major with dual degrees in Magazine Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and in French Language and Literature and in Psychology from the College of Arts and Sciences. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Keene State College in 2004, and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Franklin Pierce University and also from Southern New Hampshire University in 2011.

Montgomery is a naturalist. She is an author, and scriptwriter. Her most popular book, The Good Good Pig, is a memoir of her life with her pig, Christopher Hogwood. The book became listed on the New York Times bestseller list in 2015. How to be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals was published in September 2018. Her other notable titles include Journey of the Pink Dolphins, Spell of the Tiger, and Search for the Golden Moon Bear.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up-When asked by a journalist what life lessons animals have taught her, acclaimed writer and naturalist Montgomery hardly skipped a beat in responding, "how to be a good creature." Here the award-winning author elaborates on what she has learned from the animals she has loved and studied. Unable to conform to her parent's idea of how a young daughter should behave, this only child in a military family found her closest ally and a beloved friend in her first dog, a rambunctious Scottish terrier named Molly, and it appears from there on in her destiny was sealed. The author has traveled the world and worked with animals in the remote locations under less-than-ideal, often physically challenging, situations. However, it was the death of two of her beloved pets and a profound depression, accompanied by suicidal thoughts, that nearly brought an end to Montgomery's career. What ultimately saved the writer was a return to work and the "wildness" of nature that she believes keeps us "sane and whole." As Montgomery demonstrates again and again, it's not only the "tools of inquiry and intellect" it's also "heart" that allows us to glimpse into a world that "is aflame with shades of brilliance we cannot fathom." VERDICT Filled with fascinating stories of encounters and relationships with animals in various locations, this moving memoir will leave readers thinking about life on Earth, the creatures we share the planet with, and that "brilliance" we have yet to fully understand.-Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Naturalist Montgomery (The Soul of an Octopus) rekindles her dormant childhood desire to talk with animals in a narrative that shimmers with grace and wonder. Ten tales poignantly personify 13 critters both commonplace and exotic, from Tess the border collie and Chris the extroverted pig to spiders and octopuses. "Many young girls worship their older sisters.... [Mine] was a dog, and I... wanted to be just like her: Fierce. Feral. Unstoppable," Montgomery writes of Molly, her family's Scottish terrier. Other animals she writes about live farther from home, and Montgomery tells of quitting a newspaper job to shadow emus in the Australian Outback and befriending a tarantula in the jungles of South America. In the cloud forest of Papua, New Guinea, she rediscovers "the wildness that keeps us sane and whole, the wild, delicious hunger for life." Back on her New Hampshire farm, an ermine plundering the henhouse on Christmas offers a unexpected perspective on her difficult mother and a vivid dream of a deceased pet opens her heart to a new dog in need of rescue. Montgomery's lyrical storytelling and resonant lessons on how animals can enhance our humanity result in a tender, intelligent literary memoir. Illus. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

In a memoir that will speak to readers of all ages, naturalist and National Book Award winner Montgomery traces her life through the animals that have shared and enhanced it. From the briefest of encounters (a glimpse of a white-furred ermine) to the heartiest of friendships (a 750-pound pig called Christopher Hogwood), Montgomery offers a look at the insights about humanity animals have given her. Some, like Octavia the octopus, are creatures she has studied; others, like a series of border collies, have been dear companions. Montgomery is equally as tender and observant in her recollections of a pinktoe tarantula as she is of her childhood Scottish terrier. There may be audience confusion early chapters, and accompanying black-and-white drawings, are ideal for middle-graders, while in later chapters, Montgomery broaches heavier subjects such as difficult family relationships and suicidal thoughts and, in fact, this is marketed for adults. But this is an endeavor that is filled with heart and should be widely shared. Plenty of memoirs center on animals, but few offer such variety, passion, and care.--Maggie Reagan Copyright 2018 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Sharing the premise that animals can and do teach humans the good creature behaviors of living life with grace, humor, love, empathy, forgiveness and compassion, naturalist and science writer Montgomery (The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness) combines animal science with her belief that humans can and do learn from animals. Sharing memories of 13 of her nonhuman friends, including an octopus, a tarantula, dogs, emus, and hens, Montgomery reflects upon their personalities, describes their communication behaviors with animals and humans, ways they protect their young, and how a tarantula chews its food. Presenting an accessible discussion of animal survival, emotions, trainability, and animal-human bonding, Montgomery exudes the wonder, empathy, and emotions she experiences as she studies her pals living their lives and in the process learns to live her own life as a "good creature." Well read by the author. Verdict This title will fascinate both animal lovers and those interested in animal science.-Laurie Selwyn, formerly with Grayson Cty. Law Lib., Sherman, TX © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.