Hancock trio creates book to help rescue pet birds

Sunday News Correspondent
May 18. 2013 8:13PM
"It's an all-Hancock production," author Sy Montgomery, right, says of her new book, "Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo." Montgomery is seen before a Thursday reading at the Hancock Library with the book's publisher, Sarah Bauhan, left, and its illustrator Judith Oksner. All three women reside in Hancock.MEGHAN PIERCE 

HANCOCK - While researching her book "Birdology,'' author Sy Montgomery celebrated her 52nd birthday by dancing with perhaps the most famous bird in the world, Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo.

"You just can't help but want to dance when you see him dancing," she said.

The parrot now has his own book, aimed at children and created by three Hancock residents: Montgomery; illustrator Judith Oksner; and publisher Sarah Bauhan, whose Peterborough-based Bauhan Publishing released the book.

Snowball turned the science world on its head by demonstrating that parrots not only share a human's ability to talk but also a human's ability to dance.

"Parrots are extremely intelligent animals, but they show their intelligence in different ways," Montgomery said. "Some of them feel like learning language, some of them feel like learning something else.

"They talk, they appreciate music and they dance," Montgomery said. "It also includes beat recognition and synchronization, being able to dance to music. No one knew this. No scientist knew this until Snowball came along."

He bobs, he stamps his feet, he throws out his chest and he screams to music. There is a polka he is partial to, but he is best known for his viral YouTube video, in which he dances to a Backstreet Boys song.

Snowball was surrendered to bird rescue site Bird Lovers Only in North Carolina along with his Backstreet Boys CD. The organization's director, Irena Schulz, discovered his dancing the first time she played the CD, not sure why it had been dropped off with him. The number of views of the video exploded when it was posted on YouTube.

"It had more than 5 million views. They couldn't believe it. So the next thing they knew, all these TV shows were calling wanting him to be on," Montgomery said.

Since then he has appeared on TV shows around the world; led a group of children in a dance on Animal Planet; and starred in a Taco Bell commercial.

Despite his success, Montgomery said, she was saddened to learn that Snowball and so many other birds have been given up because the pet owners initially didn't understand the commitment required to care for such a complex creature.

She decided to write "Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo'' to raise awareness among children about the issue.

"Kids, I think, can be very good stewards of animals" and are very often the best way to pass information to adults, she said.

Proceeds helping birds

She is also raising money for Snowball and his friends. Montgomery is donating all of her royalties from this book to Bird Lovers Only.

To create the book, Montgomery brought in her good friends and neighbors, she said.

Montgomery has published 18 books, some with large publishing houses such as Random House and Simon & Schuster, she said.

But for this book, she wanted to work with her friend Bauhan.

"Sarah Bauhan puts out a gorgeous book ...,' which helps book sales, Montgomery said. That, in turn, ensures maximum profits for the bird sanctuary.

Bauhan also donated 1,000 books to Bird Lovers Only, which is selling the books to support its work.

"So I am very happy about this collaboration," Montgomery said. "No one could have put out a more beautiful book."

In the past, Montgomery has only used photographs for her books, but she brought in retired teacher, artist and friend Oksner for the project.

"His personality was so quirky and funny, I hoped I had captured some of that," said Oksner, who said she worked with nearly 500 photos of Snowball to capture his image and spirit for the book.

"I certainly got a huge education about birds," Oksner said, adding it was fun collaborating with her friend Sy.

Oksner, who lives in New York City and summers in Hancock, has had many exhibitions in New England and New York art galleries and has done illustrations for magazines, books and informational reports.

Montgomery is the author of many science-themed books for children and adults. Her work has won many awards, including the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal and the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Book and Film Prize. She achieved international success with her memoir, "The Good Good Pig.''

"Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo'' is her 10th book for children, but it's not like the others. This book, though filled with science facts about birds, is technically fiction because she wrote it as though Snowball were telling his own story.

"Sy came to me because her publisher, Houghton Mifflin, decided it wasn't in the same line as her nature books,'' said Bauhan. "She sort of has a brand going for her science books for kids at Houghton Mifflin, so it didn't really fit. But she really wanted to do this book for Snowball and Bird Lovers Only."

Although Bauhan specializes in nonfiction books about New England, she jumped at the chance to work with her friend.

"It was kind of a no brainer. ... Sy's very well-known. We kind of know her as a hometown girl. I just think of her as a friend, but beyond our little enclave here she's quite famous," Bauhan said. "I've been trying to do things that make a difference and ultimately I think this does because it draws attention to rescue birds."


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