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Sonderbooks Book Review of

The Octopus Scientists

Exploring the Mind of a Mollusk

text by Sy Montgomery

photographs by Keith Ellenbogen


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The Octopus Scientists

Exploring the Mind of a Mollusk

text by Sy Montgomery
photographs by Keith Ellenbogen

Review posted August 3, 2015.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2015. 72 pages.
Starred Review

The Octopus Scientists is part of the extraordinary Scientists in the Field series. As with The Tapir Scientist, Sy Montgomery puts herself in the story, telling us all about her two-week visit with a team of octopus scientists, what they were studying, and what they found.

In this case, the team of four scientists was searching for octopuses – to study where they live, what they eat, and even their personalities (bold or more cautious). Among other interesting facts I learned, it turns out that octopuses is correct, not octopi.

Though many people still use this plural, octopus experts deem it incorrect because it mixes up two languages. Octopus is a Greek word meaning “eight-footed.” Adding i to the end of a singular noun is a Latin practice. The correct plural is octopuses, or octopods.

Most of this book addresses the biggest challenge: simply finding the octopuses, who are experts at hiding. But the team is very successful, and besides scientific results and information, because of this Keith Ellenbogen got an abundance of colorful, stunning photographs of octopuses and other sea creatures in the crystal clear water among the coral reefs.

I love the way the books in the Scientists in the Field series show what actual scientists do – including days of fruitless searching. It includes the difficulties they encounter and the mixed results as well as the triumphs and the new information gained.

Along the way, readers learn a plethora of facts about octopuses, and these facts are told as background in an engaging story, so they won’t quickly be forgotten.

This book may well inspire many future marine biologists. And the rest of us will marvel at the intelligence and beauty of the humble octopus. I had no idea they can change color more effectively than a chameleon, yet are colorblind themselves. Or that they can figure out how to open different kinds of latches. Or… This is definitely a book you should read yourself to find out more.