Temple Grandin by Sy Montgomery
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Cindy: When this galley first arrived very early in the year, Lynn saw it and exclaimed: “Oh, Temple Grandin! I can’t wait to read that!” And I was thinking, “Temple who?” Now that I’ve read Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World (Houghton Mifflin 2012) I am glad to be up to speed with this amazing woman. The book is written by notable author, Sy Montgomery, but opens with a forward by Temple herself. She says she started working with animals in high school and quickly became concerned with how the animals were treated. But how did a young girl with autism end up creating systems for kinder and gentler animal treatment that today benefit half of the cattle in the United States and Canada? It’s an interesting story.
For Temple sensory overload was a problem from the very beginning. Sounds hurt her ears or as in the case of most words, were distorted beyond meaning. Smells overwhelmed her, she didn’t like to be touched or held, even as a child, and most fabrics were unbearably scratchy and uncomfortable. But where words failed her, her intelligent mind held on to details and pictures with unerring accuracy. It was this combination of obstacles and talents that helped Temple to notice the discomfort and fears of animals being sent through scary vaccination runs or slaughter houses. And she has dedicated her life to change those conditions.
Montgomery takes us through Grandin’s difficult childhood, the diagnosis and explanation of autism, and her struggles to make the meat packing industry acknowledge that animals deserved to be treated with respect, and that their deaths should be quick with minimal pain and fear. There are many fascinating details throughout the book (Temple built her own version of a cattle squeeze chute and would have her friend shut her in the machine to calm her own panic attacks) and many diagrams of her inventions and great photographs of Temple with the animals that she says saved her life. She was also quite a prankster and her sense of humor permeates the text.
Temple stood up to bullies, both young classmates and male ranchers (those who didn’t like a woman messing around in their business). Even more important, she stood up for animals, and continues to do that today as a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and as a well-regarded scientist and consultant to corporations like McDonalds and the livestock industry that provides the meat for all of those Big Macs. This easily readable biography shines a light on a scientist in a unique field of study and with autism diagnosis on the rise, it will help young readers understand one type of the disorder a little bit better.
The more I read about Temple, the more I wondered about where I have been the last decade! She was named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People of 2010, HBO produced a movie about Temple starring Clare Danes, and she has appeared on many television shows and written or been the subject of countless articles and books. I am grateful that Houghton has published this biography for middle grade readers…I’ll be eager to share what I learned this summer with my students this fall–I’m guessing I won’t be the only one at school who didn’t know Temple, even though I’m sure most of our Bookends readers are way ahead of me.
Lynn: I was excited when I saw this book both because of the author whose writing I highly respect and because of the subject. I had read about Temple Grandin, heard her interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air and seen the wonderful movie, Temple Grandin, made in 2010. I greatly admire this remarkable woman who has overcome so many obstacles in her life, made a significant contribution to animal welfare and made her mark in a field very unwelcoming to women.
Sy Montgomery does an outstanding job of bringing her life and achievements to a young audience. And let’s be clear about an important part of Grandin’s story. She studies slaughter houses and the business of killing animals and works to make the process as humane as possible. There’s a big ewww factor here! How do you talk about this subject in a way that keeps kids reading the book? Montgomery does an outstanding job of this and she does it by matter-of-factly examining the situation through Temple Grandin’s eyes and by taking readers through her thought process in solving the problem. The result is clear and understandable and readers gain an equal appreciation of Grandin and her remarkable abilities as well as her thoughtful solutions to these issues.
Montgomery was able to visit and interview Temple Grandin and some of her friends and even visited her schools. She includes many direct quotes from Grandin, some of her design sketches and many photographs, all of which help to make this book feel lively and immediate. Interspersed in the biography are explanations on autism disorder, a discussion of brain differences and statistics on factory farming. An extensive bibliography is included and there is also a teacher’s guide available. One Appendix is of special note and shouldn’t be missed! It is Temple’s Advice for Kids on the Spectrum and it, like the book, is incredibly practical yet encouraging. As Temple herself says, “Everybody’s not the same and thank goodness for that!” Well, I agree and I’d like to add, thank goodness for Temple Grandin and for Sy Montgomery who brings us this story.
Common Core Connections
RI.6.1. Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
The subtitle of this book is How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World and Temple herself states “Genius is abnormal.” How did Temple’s autism help her to be successful. Support your answer with examples of text. Did the book also spark other ideas?
RI.6.3. Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples or anecdotes).
Temple says, “I’ve got the nervous system of a prey animal.” This inbred danger response made life very difficult for her as a teenage girl until Temple discovered the squeeze machine. Analyze how author Sy Montgomery describes the way Temple discovered, adapted and utilized this machine and how it impacted her life.