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How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals

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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.

208 pages, Hardcover

First published September 25, 2018

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About the author

Sy Montgomery

50 books1,323 followers
Part Indiana Jones, part Emily Dickinson, as the Boston Globe describes her, Sy Montgomery is an author, naturalist, documentary scriptwriter, and radio commentator who has traveled to some of the worlds most remote wildernesses for her work. She has worked in a pit crawling with 18,000 snakes in Manitoba, been hunted by a tiger in India, swum with pink dolphins in the Amazon, and been undressed by an orangutan in Borneo. She is the author of 13 award-winning books, including her national best-selling memoir, The Good Good Pig. Montgomery lives in Hancock, New Hampshire.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,715 reviews
Profile Image for Dorie  - Cats&Books :) (on hiatus).
975 reviews2,641 followers
December 16, 2019
*reposting this for Christmas because while we are all involved in giving gifts to family, etc. I hope that some of you leave out something for the squirrels, birds, deer, turkeys, etc that may be in your yard. Winter can be a hard time for animals. Merry Christmas and thank God for being blessed with all of the animals in the world :)

The cover of this book is what caught my eye, what a beautiful illustration. There are whimsical drawings throughout the book and a wonderful gallery of photographs of Ms. Montgomery with some of her animal friends at the end of the book.

I won’t go through all of the animals that are mentioned in the book but my favorite was Christopher Hogwood the pig and his very large personality. Even when he had grown huge and powerful he was a gentle pig. Sy describes the two preteen neighbor girls giving him a spa treatment “We fetched warm buckets of soapy water . . . we added products created for horses to apply to his hooves to make them shine Grunting his contentment as he lay in his pool of soapy water, Christopher make clear he adored his spa “

Ms. Montgomery seems able to bond with all sorts of creature even a tarantula, I love animals but they have to be the furry kind. Although Ms. Montgomery would even argue that point as she describes the tarantula’s legs “Despite spiders reputations as dirty, nasty “bugs,” tarantulas are as immaculate as cats, carefully cleaning any dirt that falls on their bodies by meticulously drawing the hairs on their legs through the mouth, using their fangs like the teeth of a comb”

Despite the whimsy of the illustrations there is genuine heartbreak here also. Ms. Montgomery describes the early years of her arranged living style with her partner, Howard, and her animals in such a loving way, however apparently her mother felt she was living so out of the sphere of what she considered “normal” that she disowned her.

Along with the love of an animal, of course, comes the heartbreak when they pass away. It seems as deeply as she was in love with her animal friends she also suffered severe depression upon their passing. It sometimes took several years before she even considered added another pet/friend to the household. Because the author honestly tells us how deeply her depression was felt with even thoughts of harming herself I would suggest caution in giving this book to anyone under the age of perhaps 15? Of course that is my personal opinion, she is being honest with the reader but sometimes depression can be very hard to understand.

I was very glad that I read this memoir as Ms. Montgomery certainly has lived a life worth remembering and sharing. I love the quote below that was in the author’s biography :

“Go out into the world where your heart calls you. The blessings will come, I promise you that. I wish for you the insight to recognize the blessings as such, and sometimes it's hard. But you'll know it's a blessing if you are enriched and transformed by the experience. So be ready. There are great souls and teachers everywhere. It's your job to recognize them.”
― Sy Montgomery

I received an ARC of this memoir from the publisher through Edelweiss
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
657 reviews836 followers
March 19, 2023
“most of my teachers have been animals. What have animals taught me about life? How to be a good creature.”

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals

Most reviewers love Sy Montgomery's How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals. I liked the premise (from the perspective of a naturalist) that we can learn and connect to creatures that seem so different from us. The essays I enjoyed most focused on this theme and covered specific animals that Montgomery was studying such as a group of emu and an octopus. The intelligence of an octopus is seen as alien and otherworldly. That's what makes trying to communicate with it so interesting.

However, it didn't work for me when Montgomery shifted to her pets. Unfortunately, her connection to her pets and coping with the grief of losing them is at the emotional center of this book. For a naturalist to be discussing the ghosts of her pets and visions where her former pets picked new pets for her was definitely not what I was looking for. Some interesting parts, but again not what I was looking for. 2.75 stars.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,317 reviews4,839 followers
July 24, 2021

Sy Montgomery writes books and documentaries about animals for both children and adults. In this book, Montgomery shares stories about some of her favorite creatures, including her family pets; an octopus in an aquarium; and creatures in their natural environment.

Sy Montgomery

Montgomery travels around the world to research her books, and has visited the cloud forests of Papua New Guinea; Mongolia's Gobi Desert; Amazon rivers; the Australian Outback; and much more. Every animal Montgomery got to know was a good creature - "a marvel and perfect in his or her own way" - and each one helped her become a better person.

Sy's love affair with animals began when she was a child and her family adopted a Scottish terrier named Molly. Young Sy wanted to be just like Molly, "Fierce. Feral. Unstoppable." The author relates anecdotes about Molly breaking her tether to chase rabbits; stealing black dress socks and shaking them to death; capturing soccer balls and killing them; and being saluted as she trotted by the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (though that might be because Molly was the General's canine).

A Scottish terrier

Sy was enraptured by Molly's "otherworldly powers" - the dog's enhanced abilities to hear, smell, and see in the dark. To learn more about these superpowers, little Sy intensely studied every inch of the canine, from her tongue to her anus - and daydreamed about running away with Molly, living in the woods, and learning the secrets of wild animals. Sy grew up to fulfill this ambition, and became a renowned naturalist and animal expert.


Montgomery has studied animals of every description. For example, she made friends with three emus in the Australian Outback after, in her words, the first sight of them felt like a "shock stung the top of my head, like a laser bolt." To determine if emus were important dispersers of seeds, Montgomery spent her days searching for 'emu pies' and following the birds, who she named Black Head; Knackered Leg (for a leg injury); and Bald Throat (for a whitish patch on the neck).

An emu

'Black Head, Knackered Leg, and Bald Throat'

It took a while, but the huge flightless birds eventually accepted Montgomery's presence, allowing her to follow them and even sleep with them. The writer studied the emus for six months, and wept when it was time to return home, where she would miss the peace, joy, and satisfaction the birds had given her.


Sy and her husband Howard Mansfield (the writer) live on a farm in Hancock, New Hampshire - perfect for raising animals. At a low point in Sy's life - when she was deeply depressed about the cancellation of a book deal and the loss of her father - Howard arranged for the adoption of a sick baby pig to cheer Sy up.

Sy Montgomery's husband, Howard Mansfield

The piglet, named Christopher Hogwood, needed warmth, love, and TLC - and caring for him helped Sy heal. Christopher loved to eat, play, snuggle, explore, and meet people, and he often broke out of his pen to visit the neighbors.....who would call Sy to retrieve him. Thus Christopher helped Sy make new friends, and gave her something to talk about at parties.

Christopher Hogwood when he was a young pig

Sy Montgomery with full grown Christopher Hogwood (750 pounds)

Christopher was soon joined by 'the ladies', a gaggle of black, sex-link hens gifted by Sy's friend. The chickens enjoyed being petted, picked up, and kissed on their combs.

Sy Montgomery and Howard Mansfield with 'the ladies'

Sy Montgomery feeding 'the ladies'

Sy Montgomery playing with one of her chickens

Then came Tess, a previously abused two-year-old black and white border collie - who liked to play with toys, catch frisbees, and go for hikes. Tess amazed Sy with her intelligence, strength, and agility.

Howard Mansfield with a border collie

The menagerie at the farm attracted visitors from the entire neighborhood, especially two schoolgirls next door, who saved their lunches for Christopher, made him a 'pig spa' (for baths), and visited the farm every day - essentially becoming part of Sy and Howard's family. In essence, the domestic animals helped Sy (who's childless by choice) acquire a large extended family to love.


Montgomery traveled to French Guiana in South America to meet the "Goliath birdeater", the largest tarantula on Earth, who has a leg span that can cover a person's face (think of the larval monster in the movie 'Alien' 😵☠ ).

A Goliath birdeater

In French Guiana, Sy fell in love with a tarantula called Clarabelle, who became the spider ambassador to a group of Guianan schoolchildren. The brave kids even consented to hold Clarabelle on their palms, and one little girl exclaimed, "Elle est belle, le monstre." (She is beautiful, the monster.)

[FYI: In graduate school I worked for an entomologist/arachnologist who whipped out a tarantula whenever he interviewed a new job applicant, just for fun. He probably lost a few prospective employees. 😁]

Sy Montgomery with a tarantula

Other animals Montgomery writes about in the book include:
- An ermine that, following its instincts, killed one of the farm's pet chickens (Sy was sad but doesn't hold a grudge).
- Tree kangaroos in Papua New Guinea - which required three days of arduous mountain hiking to reach.
- A giant Pacific octopus called Octavia, who lived in the New England Aquarium and liked to embrace Montgomery's arms with her tentacles.

An ermine

A tree kangaroo

Octavia the octopus

Sy Montgomery with Octavia the octopus


When - at ripe old ages - Christopher (the pig) and Tess (the dog) died, Montgomery was so grief-stricken that she considered suicide. Sy's hair fell out, her gums bled, and her brain misfired, making it hard to remember words. Months later Tess came to Sy in a dream, showing her a new border collie to adopt. After considerable searching, on border collie rescue sites and at rescue facilities, a friend came up with the exact right dog. Sy's husband Howard took some convincing, but soon enough Sally - a female border collie who'd been seriously mistreated - came to the farm.

Sally was a handful! She dug holes in the lawn; constantly ate and rolled in other animals' poop; and ate any food she could reach - including Howard's crab cakes; a birthday cake; an entire box of oatmeal; lunches out of backpacks; and sandwiches on their way to a person's mouth. But Sally was also a fun playmate, an enthusiastic hiker, and an affectionate pooch. Sally loved to be kissed and brushed, and she made Sy "unspeakably happy."

After Sally passed away, Sy and Howard got a third border collie called Thurber, who's "so happy that he sings." Thurber is especially prone to howl along with morning radio; Bruce Springsteen; and the songs 'Say Something' and "Gracias a la Vida."


In addition to talking about her animals, Montgomery includes snippets about her personal life - which wasn't always easy. In addition to suffering from repeated bouts of deep depression following the loss of people and animals, Montgomery had a fraught relationship with her parents.

According to Sy's aunt, her mother smothered and shook her repeatedly when she was a baby, because her crying "ruined mom's cocktail hour." Whatever happened, two-year-old Sy fell dangerously ill, and didn't play, talk, or grow for months. Sy's parents worked hard to make her well, and small Sy's love of animals (including Molly) helped her recover.

Montgomery's parents also rejected her as an adult, after she became a naturalist. They were disappointed that she didn't train for the army in college and adopt their lifestyle. Sy's parents kept a membership for her at both the 'Army Navy Town Club' and 'Army Navy Country Club' in Washington, D.C., hoping she'd meet a suitable military man. Instead, Sy married a middle-class, liberal Jewish writer.

A week after the wedding, Sy's wealthy, conservative Methodist father wrote her a letter in which he formally disowned her and compared her to "the serpent that did sting thy father's life" (a quote from Hamlet). Sy later (more or less) reconciled with her parents, but they never allowed her husband Howard into their home.

Nevertheless, in her acknowledgements Montgomery notes that, although she and her parents had many disagreements, "I always loved them. I know that, in their own way, they loved me, too." Sy notes that she wouldn't have wanted any other parents, because her folks made her the determined person she is.

At the end of the story, Montgomery lists the ten books that inspired her to write about the natural world, and the books she's penned for adults and children.

Because of the personal anecdotes, this book is probably suitable for ages 12 to adult (though small children would like the animal stories).

I enjoyed the book and recommend it to people interested in animals and nature.

Thanks to Netgalley, the author (Sy Montgomery), and the publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) for a copy of the book.

You can follow my reviews at https://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot....
Profile Image for Katie.
511 reviews205 followers
November 24, 2018
"After Chris and, too soon afterward, Tess had died, the one thing that kept me going was the comforting thought that I could kill myself."

This quote perfectly signifies my confusion with this book and what the author is trying to accomplish. This is not so much an exploration of “how to be a good creature” as much as it is a record of the author’s struggles coping with the aging process and subsequent death of the animals she loved.

I read through a lot of the reviews trying to understand why everyone gave this five stars, because, to me, it presented little valuable information; it was poorly written, and felt more like the author was trying to work through her feelings about her border collies rather than communicate what she learned from each of these animals.

Many reviewers mentioned how much they loved the Montgomery’s book Soul of an Octopus. I haven’t read any of her other books, but it sounds like the same octopus makes an appearance in this book. That was actually my favorite chapter because she details how different octopi are from humans, how intelligent they are, and how much they enjoy playing with us.

Maybe I’m not the intended audience for this book. I’m not a longtime fan of the author; I’m not a naturalist or a scientist, but I’ve endured many of my own pets growing old and dying. I think it’s the greatest gift in the world to love a pet and to selflessly give yourself over to their care, particularly in their old age. Animals teach us, in many ways, to cherish life, to love unconditionally, and to recognize the impermanence of our existence. I wish that these concepts would have been discussed more by the author instead of her depression and suicidal thoughts over losing her pets.

See more of my reviews: Blog // Instagram
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,621 reviews5,055 followers
October 10, 2022
I've been on a nonfiction kick lately, but I don't read a lot of memoirs — usually, if I reach for a book like this, it's because the author is someone I already have a lot of love for, not someone I'm totally unfamiliar with like Sy Montgomery. That said, when I heard that this memoir took the form of essays about animals, I was sold: I'm a lifelong animal lover and heaven knows I've learned more than my fair share of life lessons from the pets in my life.

This was so wholesome and insightful, and somehow even more emotional than I expected it to be. While it doesn't dwell heavily on pet loss like I worried it might (there are chapters focused on grieving a deceased pet, but they don't make up a large portion of the book overall), it does delve into some incredibly dark mental health struggles the author went through at points in her life, and those were tough to read — but also incredibly relatable, and lovely, and vulnerable.

I absolutely recommend this memoir with my whole heart to anyone who's an animal lover. Not only does Sy offer a lot of knowledge about the animals she's loved and worked with, but she also gives such a candid, honest view into the heart of an animal lover, and I enjoyed it so much.

Buddy read with Malli! 💖

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Profile Image for Montzalee Wittmann.
4,493 reviews2,315 followers
May 17, 2019
How to be a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery and also narrated by the author is a book that just makes you feel so good! I am a but animal loved and I could relate to her stories much. It didn't sound like she had the best family life but her love for her dog was a saving grace. Later her love for animals spread to all kinds of creatures and she explains how they helped her and she loved them. I laughed, related, and cried throughout this book! I was a mess! I could do all of these in one chapter! Her love just shines through! I have listened to another of her books so I knew how wonderful, tender, and insightful she is in her books. I can't wait to read more! As a narrator, it was nice to hear her true emotions as she told her adventures. It really brought the story closer to the reader.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,709 reviews2,262 followers
November 13, 2018
I had seen the cover of this book, had been drawn in by the illustrations on the cover but knew little about the contents until I read my goodreads friend Dorie’s review. Then I knew I wanted to read it and requested it from the library, thinking that it would be months before it would be my turn, so I was surprised when I received a notification that my turn had arrived!

In the introduction, Sy Montgomery speaks of her travels around the world and how a saying that came to her once has become a promise: ”When a student is ready, the teacher will appear,” and that foremost among her teachers have been animals. Some who have come to share their lives with her at the home she shares with her husband, author Howard Mansfield.

”What have animals taught me about life? How to be a good creature.”

These pages, and there are only slightly over 200 pages, are filled with more fanciful drawings throughout, as well as a wisdom of the importance of the connection with animals. These are not all animals one associates as being pets, some are found in some of the exotic locations she visits, and some are found in the ocean – or aquariums, on top of the highest peaks of mountains, in places most of us will never see outside the pages of a book.

Still, there is more to this memoir than the thirteen animals she talks about. There is her own personal journey, which like most people is filled with more than happiness. With each loss of a beloved animal, her heart breaks a little and takes time to be ready to open the proverbial curtains and let the light back in. With each introduction to a new animal, a new species sometimes, she responds with the natural wonder and curiosity of a child – without fear, with a view of them as yet another animal, not so unlike herself (minus the fur, or tentacles or snout or six legs…) with an acknowledgement of their right to call this place home, too.

”To begin to understand the life of any animals demands not only curiosity, not only skill, and not only intellect. I saw that I would also need to summon the bond I had forged with Molly. I would need to open not only my mind, but also my heart.”

On its release, this was ranked #9 on the New York Times Bestseller list, and People magazine listed it as one of The Best New Books of the year, an impressive first day!

There is even some lovely prose within these pages, adding a lovely touch to these pages, which have such a wonderful balance of the “facts” alongside her heartfelt emotions, and alongside some relevant quotes, such as the following quote by Greek Philosopher Thales of Miletus – “’The universe,’ he’s reported to have said, ‘is alive, and has fire in it, and is full of gods.’ Being friends with an octopus – whatever that friendship meant to her – has shown me that our world, and the worlds around and within it, is aflame with shades of brilliance we cannot fathom – and is far more vibrant, far more holy, than we could ever imagine.’”


Many thanks, once again, to the Public Library system, and the many Librarians that manage, organize and keep it running, for the loan of this book!
Profile Image for debbicat *made of stardust*.
722 reviews106 followers
October 5, 2018
5 BIG HAPPY stars! If you wanna know how to be good creature, you can learn this from animals, like Sy did with 13 written about here. Such a good book! I must buy a copy. I enjoyed hearing about all 13 of her animal loves. My favorites were the dogs, Christopher Hogwood, the good pig, Octavia the Octopus, and the Clarabelle, the tarantula. So much to learn here and enjoy. "Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative. No one knows this better than author, naturalist, and adventurer Sy Montgomery." ~(from the library book blurb)

I have read one other book by Sy Montgomery. It was The Soul of an Octopus. I enjoyed it immensely. Now I want to read all of her books. At the end of the book she gives a list of 10 books she recommends to read that helped her on her journey. She writes with such a true heart. I feel like we would be very good friends.

I also have a number of rescues that live with me. I learn daily from them and can relate to much of what she trys to relay in her book. I don't know where I would be without the animal friends of my life. I would not be who I am today.

Many thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley and Sy Montgomery for a digital copy to read for review. I highly recommend it!
Profile Image for roe.
64 reviews30 followers
February 7, 2019
I waited two months to get this from the library and I'm kind of stunned by how much I didn't like it. Many of the animals are lovely, but the lessons they taught the author are never actually talked about? Most of it is the author talking about negative events in her life and then ending the chapter with two large print pages on the animal itself. It became about how much the author hated herself and wanted to die (which was super jarring considering what the theme of the book was supposed to be) instead of the animals, which should've been the stars of the show. And the writing wasn't particular great either. Great animals, not so great book.
Profile Image for Whitney.
131 reviews49 followers
February 4, 2019
Overall: A very sweet memoir focused on lessons learned from various creatures the author has come in contact with throughout her life. The book is set up into thirteen chapters with each chapter devoted to a different creature. A sweet read that I would recommend to any animal lover.

The Good:
"You never know, even when life looks hopeless, what might happen next. It could be that something wonderful is right around the corner."

From the first chapter, you can tell the author has an absolute love and bond with every creature highlighted in the book. This passion she has for all her creatures is the biggest highlight of the book and I felt myself smiling as a result of this repeatedly. There are thirteen different tales that are all somewhat unique with different points made throughout, but I would have to say my favorite was the pig!

The Bad: The book is simple and though there are thirteen different chapters/creatures many of the stories felt the same.
Profile Image for Sirunmanug.
134 reviews9 followers
April 21, 2021
Kitabın sonuna yaklaştığımda okuyucu keyfi olarak iki yıldız verilecek bir deneyim olduğunu düşünürken, bitirdiğimde madem bu kadar işin arasında bu kadar sürede elimden bırakmadan bitirdim, demek ki amacına ulaşıyor, daha fazlasını hakediyor diye düşündüm. Benim gibi yılmaz kediseverleri içinde bir de kedi hikayesi yok diye üzebilir belki ama içindeki öz oldukça saf ve iyi niyetli, alırken başka bir yaklaşımla insanın tekamülüne yönelik bir takım unsurlar barındırabileceğini düşünmüştüm ancak bitirdiğimde aslında yolda unuttuğumuz saf ve temiz, baştan beri var olan duyguları anlattığı ve ihtiyacı olana hatırlatabileceği için sevdim. Keyifli ve güzel bir sohbet gibiydi.
Profile Image for KC.
2,389 reviews
October 10, 2018
This is a fascinating look at one woman's journey with the animals she's met and loved throughout her life. The illustrations are captivating. I can't believe I cried over an octopus!
Profile Image for Cheryl .
9,025 reviews390 followers
January 29, 2019
Oh I do hope at least one of my libraries gets this promptly!
Or maybe I'll have to buy it. Direct from Sy, because she should get all the proceeds....
Ok, libraries are buying it, so yay. And it deserves to be in any collection that can afford it. But I have to say, Sy's done better. This is just too brief for me, a sampler if you will. If you're new to her work, by all means read this. Or if you like emotional memoir-ish essays, you'll likely love this.

But if you've already read most of her work, there's not a whole lot new here... except the art and photos and 'further reading' notes.... Ah, check it out. Then check out her other works.
Profile Image for Hilary "Fox".
1,993 reviews53 followers
November 19, 2018
How to Be a Good Creature is a book unlike any other I've yet read.

If you know me, you know I've been rescuing hedgehogs for a number of years now. I've worked with animals close to death and brought them back to a happy, healthy state. I've worked with animals that hated everyone, but taught them to love me and accept others. I've worked with any number of these little creatures, and the one thing I can say after having done this for over six years now is that every single one that has come into my care has taught me something. Every animal I've met has taught me something. Sometimes the lesson is not one that I wanted to learn, but it has always been meaningful and live altering. I'm grateful for that.

Sy Montgomery feels very much the same way, and has authored a memoir with each chapter focusing upon a different animal in her life. Here you will learn from dogs and tarantulas, tree kangaroos and octopuses. You will learn to respect creatures that perhaps you formerly feared, and how similar we all are in the end. How much we have to learn. This book shoots from the hip and doesn't shy away from a number of different, difficult topics. Mental health most of all.

This is a very admirable work, and one that I could see becoming a classic within the animal literature world. While it is perhaps a bit too explicit in how devastating loss can be at times, I think in the end this book would be valuable for even a younger crowd to learn to interact with animals in a new, and better way.

Thank you, Sy Montgomery. Thank you over and over again.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,647 reviews26 followers
November 2, 2018
There are so many wonderful adjectives I could use to describe this book : lovely, engaging, entrancing, profound, and full of discovery. Montgomery has dedicated her life to traveling the world to write about animal life around the globe. She also has had a number of animals in her life including dogs, chickens, and a pig, and lives with her husband on a farm in New Hampshire. The animals she writes about include a Scottish Terrier, Border Collies, emus in the Australian Outback, a pet pig, a Goliath birdeater tarantula, a white weasel (a threat to her chickens), tree kangaroos in the Cloud Forest of New Guinea, and octupuses (yes that is the plural). Her love for these animals (yes she includes all of these creatures in that category), is intense. Animals, sadly, have shorter life spans than humans, and when these animals die, Montgomery is deeply affected. When she loses pets, she plunges into dark depressions, and even contemplates taking her own life. Montgomery is a woman of intense feelings. You will love these animals with her as you read her account. The book is under 200 pages, with lovely whimsical illustrations by Rebecca Green, and photographs at the end of the book. I recommend this book to any reader who appreciates nature and "likes" animals. You will finish it, loving animals and with a passion for nature.
Profile Image for Sarah.
370 reviews51 followers
July 24, 2018
Author Sy Montgomery’s childhood Scottish Terrier taught her to be tough and independent. Twelve more animals she has shared her life with, including an octopus and a tarantula, have each taught her something about life and herself. Sy truly understands and appreciates animals. This illustrated memoir is so charming and reminded me that to slow down and give my own fur babies extra cuddles is good for the soul, theirs and mine.
Profile Image for Ilana.
601 reviews161 followers
October 28, 2018
More like 4.5 stars 🙂

I’m an unabashed animal lover/nutcase with three furkids of my own—of the kind that remains relatively unmoved at the sight of adorable babies, but goes absolutely nutters over dogs, cats, elephants, cows, horses, pigs, frogs, spiders, bears, beetles, bees, marsupials, octopuses, whales, mice, and just about any non-human critter living on this planet (except for roaches and mosquitoes 😖). As such, I absolutely love Sy Montgomery’s books, who’s passion for animals is positively infectious. She has dedicated her life to researching them and travelled the world to encounter countless known and rare species to write about them.

This, her latest charmingly illustrated book, came about when an interviewer asked her what lessons animals taught Sy about herself, and her almost immediate answer came: “How to be a good creature”. Here she briefly talks about 13 different critters she has encountered in her lifetime who taught her important life lessons: from her first dog, Molly, a Scottish terrier adopted when she was 3 and which she strove to emulate in every way to her mother’s great despair; a threesome of emu siblings which she undertook to study to satisfy her own burning curiosity as to their habits in the Australian outback; Christopher Hogwood, a pig she adopted as a runt so sick and small he had few chances of survival and who grew to become a 750 lbs “Buddha master” and the subject of her bestselling book “The Good Good Pig” when he passed after a very contented life, aged 14; Clarabelle, an Avicularia, or large species of tarantula with distinguishable pink footpads and a friendly personality encountered on a trip in French Guiana; Tess, Sally and Thurber, border collies who became irreplaceable members of the family; an octopus named Octavia who was also the fascinating subject of an excellent standalone book, called “The Soul of an Octopus”, to name a few.

If you’ve never read a book by this author, this is a great way to get acquainted with her work. If you’ve already read and enjoyed some of Montgomery’s books, “How To Be a Good Creature” will get you better acquainted with Sy Montgomery and introduce you to several creatures you likely haven’t met before, or you’ll surely find some new anecdotes to smile at or sympathize with. Another part of the book I really liked was the For Further Reading section, where Montgomery lists ten books that inspired her to start studying and writing about the natural world. Highly recommend, naturally. 🙂
Profile Image for Kirsty.
2,678 reviews177 followers
September 7, 2018
I really liked the concept of the book, and the illustrations were lovely, but I felt that the execution could have been better. The prose did very little to capture my attention.
Profile Image for Heather.
393 reviews29 followers
December 16, 2022
** 2 Stars** Trigger warning for casual mentions of suicide and parental abuse without warning in what I mistook to be a heart-warming child-friendly memoir about the meaningful animals in Sy's life.

The good: Sy Montgomery is an author, naturalist and researcher who has lived an interesting and enviable life learning about animals. She is very good at connecting readers to her topic of choice, educating, and telling relatable stories. She has written about birds, octopus, pigs, amazonian pink dolphins, apes, cheetahs, sharks and many other animals and has deeply delved into the research for each, connecting with the animals she studies to find her stories.

How to Be a Good Creature is a memoir. It's a memoir that looks like a child's book. In fact, I purchased this book at a local speaker event that Sy headlined, had her sign the book for my 9 year old niece, and passed it along as a Christmas gift. The cover artwork is beautiful, featuring a circle of animals that have been in Sy's life. The font of the book is large and easy to read, with illustrations and photos of Sy with her animals interspersed throughout the book and at the end.

So, I finally am reading this book 4 years after I gifted it.

I was surprised and a bit thrown off that the first chapter involves Sy talking about how she was abused by her mother as an infant and as she grew up. She was traumatized when she was two after her family moved from Germany (where her mother had a nanny) back to the states where she now had to care for her young daughter (Sy) on her own. It's clear throughout the book that the mother was a narcissistic alcoholic who believed a child was for show and meant only to enhance a parent's life by conformist behavior. Even at the end of the parent's life, relations were not good between Sy and her parents.
Sy writes about the time period when she was two years old "my aunt was convinced I had been smothered, shaken violently, or both, probably repeatedly......for many months afterward, I wouldn't play or talk. I refused to eat."

I was pretty shocked that this was the opening chapter of what I had thought was a book aimed at children about Sy's connection to animals. I do realize it is her memoir, and that abuse happens and is a part of life. I'm just a bit taken aback that this book appears to be marketed towards children or parents buying the book to read to children. I personally would not have wanted to read this book aloud to my own children when they were 5-10 or hand it to them at 8-12 without some serious on the spot editing and discussion.

When Sy's beloved pets Chris and Tess die within a short time of each other, Sy spirals into a deep depression. It's so sad that with all of her resources and scientific knowledge she did not reach out to her husband or a friend, doctor or therapist for help. I do know that depression makes you irrational and believe untrue things about your self and others. Instead, she plans her suicide and writes about it in the opening of Chapter 7. "After Chris (the pig) and, too soon afterward, Tess (the dog) had died, the one thing that kept me going was the comforting thought that I could kill myself"

Um, I gave this book to my 9 year old niece? Yikes!

I'm so very sorry that Sy Montgomery had to go through a very difficult and abusive childhood with her parents. I'm equally sorry that she experienced debilitating depression when her beloved pets died and that no-one in her world reached out to help her. I just have an issue with marketing this book as a great read for children without some kind of warning about her causal mentions of suicidal thinking.
Profile Image for Candace.
375 reviews
August 25, 2018
What a treat. Having only previously listened to a part of The Soul of an Octopus’ audio before my library loan expired, I knew what Montgomery was about: Animals. Unique experiences. Love.

This book made especially for young readers is wonderful. It chronicles the animals that taught Montgomery throughout her interesting life. Although there are a few of man’s best friend (dogs) count also emus, a tarantula, a pig, an octopus, and a weasel among others. With life lessons, gorgeous illustrations and a note of sadness (if you’ve recently lost a pet bring Kleenex) Montgomery shows how animals can teach us valuable lessons even when you least expect it.
Profile Image for Rob .
587 reviews23 followers
March 29, 2019
I feel morally obligated to say more than “this sucked.” This book has traveled so far in the direction of awful that it circled the globe and almost was awesome. It isn’t what it purports to be. Not a self help book. For the most part, it is an uncomfortably ecstatic love letter to her pets. A literary dogasm. And her relationship with Chris, a 750 pound pig, had me paging both Dr. Freud and Dr. Ruth. When we got to the spiritualist friend seeing the spirit of the pig hovering over her like a porcine zeppelin, I was in stitches. Had to finish to see how bad it would be, and she did not disappoint.
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,771 reviews280 followers
February 8, 2023
"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Though I’ve been blessed with some splendid classroom teachers—Mr. Clarkson, my high school journalism teacher, foremost among them—most of my teachers have been animals. What have animals taught me about life? How to be a good creature."

Sy Montgomery tells her life story through the animals who have most influenced her, including not only her dog pets, but also her pet pig, a tarantula, and an octopus.
Profile Image for Ann.
84 reviews35 followers
March 29, 2019
I have mixed feelings. It was neat to read about some wild animals I don't know much about. Strangely (for me who hates spiders), I most enjoyed the chapter about the tarantula. But I wasn't expecting long excruciatingly sad stories about the author's various dogs getting sick and dying. Giant downer!

I loved the illustrations. They were perfect.
September 2, 2021
I'm crying listening to an audiobook about animals... oh boy...

Sy Montgomery is such a passionate animal biologist, scientist, and author. Listen to this book on audio. Beautiful and gut wrenching.
Profile Image for Peacegal.
9,784 reviews87 followers
January 29, 2019
Thought-provoking, emotional, and soul-baring, this is a unique and special book. The author relates her unique bonds with a wide variety of animals, from the familiar to the impossibly exotic--and she finds personality and intelligence in each one.

Readers will find themselves reflecting upon their own special friendships with companion animals, as well as glimpses of wildlife--and may even reconsider their own feelings about less cuddly and familiar creatures. The chapter describing experiences with massive spiders made me uneasy, but I took comfort that Montgomery acknowledged her own fear of spiders, and how she worked to overcome it by thinking of spiders in a different way and trying to appreciate them. I still don't think I could ever allow a tarantula to crawl up my arm, but I'm glad the author can see beauty in these beneficial (but still freaky) creatures.
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