Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sy Montgomery's Animal Non-fiction Books for Children

Sy Montgomery's Brilliant Animal Books for Children

Quite casually, a few months ago, the seven-year-old and I were researching flightless birds of the world, trying to get past the well-known large birds like ostrich and emu and penguin and cassowary and kiwi. That's when we came across Kakapo, a nocturnal ground-dwelling parrot endemic to New Zealand.

Naturally, we wanted to learn more. So when I came across Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot by Sy Montogomery and Nic Bishop at the library, I brought it home hoping to read it with the younger child in installments whenever he is ready.

I did not expect the wild enthusiasm he showed for this book! And for a very good reason. The book is by Sy Montgomery, whose brilliant books have the right balance of information, drama, storytelling, and intrinsic beauty.

Fewer than 90, yes nine-zero-ninety, of these gorgeous, friendly birds remain in the wild on the remote Codfish Island off New Zealand's south coast. Sy and Nic journeyed there to record the work done, mostly by volunteers, to prevent these sweet birds from going extinct.

The photographs by Nic Bishop, along with an easy-flowing, clear, heartwarming account of their journey of discovery makes this book a huge favorite with me.

The shared experience of reading this to the kiddo and learning about the plight of these birds that were indiscriminately killed when humans took over and settled in its habitat made us so aware of the large impact we have on our environment simply by going somewhere and being where we never were before.

We ended up reading this book every single night and finished it within a week, coming out of it as if we had traveled to the place ourselves and seen and interacted with the individual birds ourselves. We felt the pain when one of eggs was destroyed, or didn't get fertilized. We couldn't help rooting for these naive and cuddly birds.

[Read an excerpt here]

We were hooked! I borrowed every other book by Sy Montgomery that was available at our library.

In Quest for the Tree Kangaroo, we learnt about this odd-looking creature that looks like a stuffed toy that was determined to stand-out: "Impossibly soft, with a rounded face, button eyes, pink nose, upright ears and long, thick, furry tail, the 25-pound animal hops like a kangaroo, carries babies in a pouch like a koala, and climbs trees like a monkey."

In Saving the Ghost of the Mountain, Nic and Sy are on an expedition among Snow Leopards of Mongolia. "Prowling along ridges, slinking below skyline, the snow leopard is as invisible, yet as powerful, as the wind, and as elusive as a ghost." Collaborating with Snow Leopard Trust scientist Tom McCarthy and his team in the Altai Mountains of the Gobi Desert, Sy and Nic try to learn about and save an animal they can’t see—before it becomes a ghost for real.

Among the "Scientists" series of books, the kid loved Octopus Scientists -- no surprise there as Octopus is an all-time favorite for him. From its ability to totally camouflage and blend into its surroundings, its ink, its beak, to its tendency (mama octopus) to starve and die after its eggs hatch, everything about them is curious and intriguing. Sy and Keith Ellenbogan take us along for a underwater wild ride in this book.

One of my personal favorites is The Man-eating Tigers of the Sundarbans by Sy Montgomery. It is poetic and heart-wrenching and fearsome and hopeful all at the same time.

Currently, we are reading Encantado: The Pink Dolphins of the Amazon.

Next on our list: Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo. Our library does not have it, so, I'll be looking for a used copy to bring home sometime soon.

[image source: Sy Montgomery's website]

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