of the Center for Children's Books:
Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.
Rising Star - Sy Montgomery
Sy Montgomery's enthusiastic and skilled nonfiction work first came to the attention of the Bulletin with The Snake Scientist, a look at the work of zoologist Bob Mason, who studies, among other subjects, the red-sided garter snakes that inundate Manitoba. Since then, she's demonstrated herself to be an author who combines personal involvement with lively writing, making her a splendid contributor to natural science for young people.
It's that enthusiasm that's really the key to Montgomery's work, whether it's finding people who are themselves passionate about the natural world and have devoted themselves to its study, or in exploring that world herself. The Snake Scientist tackles with glee the titular job, describing the work of student assistants as they capture snakes in pillowcases, while The Tarantula Scientist tramps through the Spider Lab with the same breathless anticipation given to the arachnologist's tramps through French Guiana. Montgomery is also herself an intrepid explorer of the natural world, with many of her books, for adults as well as for young readers, chronicling her adventures in search of various unusual animals, yet she presents her own contributions to expeditions with self-deprecating humor (her greatest contribution on the Southeast Asia trip was a deft wielding of eyebrow tweezers) and always exudes respect for and fascination with the technical knowledge of the scientists and guides with whom she travels.
Though she takes some of her own photographs, she's a frequent partner of photographer Nic Bishop, also lauded as a Rising Star on this site and also a keen observer of the natural world; her words match his visual eloquence in conveying the wonder of the various places in the world they're exploring, as with their travel through New Guinea in Quest for the Tree Kangaroo. It's that on-the-spot exuberance that makes her excitement so contagious—basically, she's put her money where her mouth is. The traditional adage for fiction is "show, don't tell"; Montgomery manages to take that rule into nonfiction, inviting readers along as she or her subject scientists embark on zoological adventure, all the while exuding a passionate curiosity about the natural world. The result is an oeuvre that will appeal to armchair travelers who'd love to find exotic animals in distant locales and bolster the confidence of backyard naturalists defending their right to observe the local creepy-crawlies.
—Deborah Stevenson, Editor