Q & A with Sibert Award-Winning Author Sy Montgomery


As we posted before, the Marvelous Monday gang was lucky enough to have a chance to chat with Sibert Award – winning author Sy Montgomery during a very special Marvelous  Mondays program this week.  The kids got to as Sy about the animals she has seen, the places she’s been, and the books she’s written.  But they also asked her all kinds of questions about all kinds of animals and Sy more than proved herself to be quite the expert on wildlife.

Questions about tree kangaroos, hippos, wolves, cheetahs, crows, snow leopards, kakapos and so much more flew at Sy for over a half an hour – and she answered each question with lots of fascinating information and stories.  For our first “author visit” at the Children’s Department at Main, we couldn’t have asked for a better speaker than Sy!

After our call with Sy ended, the kids still had more questions, and so did a few parents!  Sy graciously agreed to answer any questions after our conversation ended via email.


We had two questions from parents:

1.  How did you become interested in animal research and writing books about your findings?

“I always loved animals, from the moment I could see.  I was born in Germany, and before I was 2 I managed somehow to toddle into the hippo pen, to my parents’ horror.  The hippos obviously didn’t bother me at all, and I felt at ease among them.  I loved watching all animals, learned to be quiet and still so I wouldn’t scare them away.  Wanting to always be among and help animals, I thought about being a veterinarian when I was very young.  But when I began to read, I was very interested in the newspapers my father (my hero–and a real American hero as well, a survivor of the Bataan Death March and eventually a Brigadier General) was reading.  This was in the 1960s, when the first stories on how pollution, over-hunting, and human overpopulation were driving many species to extinction were being reported in the news. Then and there I realized that animals around the world were in terrible trouble, and that humans were causing this, mostly unknowingly.  I decided that I might be able to help more animals as a writer than a veterinarian.”

2.  What tribe(s) did you work with when you were in Papua New Guinea?

“The group of people we worked with didn’t have a tribal name, but they live in the cloud forest of the Huon Peninsula, and like almost all native folk in PNG (Papua  New Guinea) had their own language; that’s why everyone in your village, and neighboring villages that speak the same language, is known in the trade language (Tok Pisin) as your Wontok (“one-talk.) But almost everyone speaks Tok Pisin as well as their native language, and that’s what we spoke.”

The children also had a couple of questions for Sy as well:

1.  Do you know anything about cheetahs?  They’re my favorite animal!

“I love cheetahs, too!  And in fact will be working on a new book on cheetahs this June, when I go to Namibia for a new book!  Cheetahs are the fastest land mammal.  They can run 70 miles per hour–faster than a car on the highway!  But they don’t run for a whole hour–it would be too tiring.  They are so stealthy and run so fast, they usually chase their prey only a minute before they catch it.   Cheetahs are highly endangered.  There are probably only 7,000 left in the world. They used to be all over Africa and in Asia, too.   Now they’re gone from Asia and remain in only a fragment of their former African range.  Cheetahs are gentle around people.  Some people even kept them as pets.   Some people would go hunting with cheetahs, like some people hunt with falcons or with dogs today!  Cheetahs are often blamed for killing livestock, but it’s almost never cheetahs who do it–it’s usually leopards.  But cheetahs get the blame.  I hope to know lots more about cheetahs this June!”

2.  How big is a regular parrot compared to a kakapo?

“There are 350 species of parrots in the world, and they range from birds small as a little parakeet (parakeets and lovebirds are really kinds of parrots, just like dolphins are really kinds of whales)  to giant ones like the Hyacinth Macaw. The Kakapo is the heaviest parrot on Earth, though not the largest–the Hyacinth Macaw, which is a beautiful blue bird with yellow markings on the face and lives in South America, has a much longer tail.”


I also had two questions for Sy!

1.  What went through your mind when you found out that you had won the Sibert Award?

“I thought–this is going to be great for the kakapos!  And I was delighted to know that a natural history book was being honored, which is rare.  Usually the books that win are about people, not animals.  I was so grateful that this award would bring attention to the drama and reward of conservation work, and the good people working so hard to
protect the birds.”

2.  Is there an animal or creature that you haven’t gotten to see yet that you want to?

“Oh, goodness, yes!!  There are so many animals I would love to see in the wild.  Polar Bears.  Desert antelopes like addax (who I hope to be writing about in yet another book in the SITF series).  Octopus in the wild…I could go on and on.  And so many places I’ve not visited that I am dying to go.  The Galapagos!  The Sahara!  (Again, this is one I’ll probably get to for that next book on desert antelope.)  Antarctica!  Komodo Island (and its Komodo dragons!)  Undersea!  And on and on and on…”

I’m still so amazed that this entire interaction with Sy started with a little email I sent her a few weeks ago to let her know how much I enjoy her books.  So we want to send another BIG thank you to Sy Montgomery for speaking with us and giving us lots of things (and animals!) to talk about, learn about, and explore.

And here is a short slideshow of images from this special program!  After we spoke to Sy, the kids made their own unique (and sometimes imaginary) creatures!

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