My mother was appalled. A southern Belle, she wanted to raise a daughter who was quiet, well-behaved and girlish. Alas, her wish would go unfulfilled. My offense? I had bitten a little boy.
But at the time, I felt I had little choice. He was pulling the legs off a Daddy Longlegs. I had to stop him.
Today, I don’t bite little boys. I write books for them—and little girls, too. And grown-ups as well. I also write articles for magazines and newspapers and the web, and sometimes scripts for radio and TV. Although I have refined my technique, my efforts serve the same purpose as that well-aimed bite in kindergarten: to protect, defend, and celebrate the creatures of this sweet, green Earth.
My work has taken me to some of the most spectacular places on Earth, meeting exciting and sometimes elusive animals. I’ve been deftly undressed by an orangutan in Borneo. I’ve held wild tarantulas in my hand in French Guiana. I’ve hiked up into the cloud forest of Papua New Guinea to help radio collar tree kangaroos and camped in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia’s Gobi searching for snow leopards.
Everywhere I go, I find incredible teachers to help me bring my message to my readers. Sometimes they’re scientists. Sometimes they’re shamans. But most often, they’re animals: pink river dolphins in the Amazon. Emus in Australia’s outback. From the giant Pacific octopuses I’ve met (and who recognize me) at the New England Aquarium in Boston, to the 18,000 snakes with whom I worked in a pit in Manitoba, Canada, I’ve been blessed to discover that everywhere, I find wisdom and courage, strength and beauty—inspiration to deepen our wonder and love for the natural world, and our respect and affection for the creatures with whom we share the planet. After all, animals love their lives as much as we love our own.
I love writing for adults, love the flexibility and depth that writing for 250 pages affords. But writing for children is especially important. Children are not just the leaders of tomorrow: they are the leaders of today. Children may not yet be able to vote or command vast sums of money, but they do powerfully influence important decisions made in their homes, decisions that affect animals and their habitats. Kids, I’ve heard from educators, are their parents’ SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT source of information about the environment—more important than radio, TV, print or internet.
Children don’t buy the lie that only people matter and animals don’t. They haven’t been hoodwinked into believing that money and status and stuff is the point of our lives. They naturally recognize that the real world—the world where we find joy and renewal and inspiration and peace–is the sweet, green, breathing, alive world around us.
So I am super proud and grateful that 11 of my 19 books published so far are for young readers. They are hungry for news of animals’ lives. Most kids already know that animals think and feel. But in addition to this, I’m eager to show kids how animals are also endowed with superpowers like spinning silk, as spiders do, or seeing sound like dolphins or smelling time like dogs. I’m delighted to introduce them to cool scientists who are discovering the secrets of these animals while working to protect them.
Children have the courage and imagination to see their way out of disasters that might make an adult just give up. True, there’s always going to be some kid who thinks it’s fun to pull the legs off a Daddy Long Legs. Sometimes you just have to bite them. But sometimes, all it takes to turn even that kid around is a good book.
Sy Montgomery is a naturalist, author and scriptwriter, described by the Boston Globe as “part Indiana Jones, part Emily Dickinson.” She has written numerous books for adults and children, including Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea, which received an Orbis Pictus Award and was selected as an Honor book for the ALA Sibert Award. Visit www.symontgomery to learn more about her important work.