For STEM Friday we have one of the fabulous books nominated for a Cybils Award.

Our choice is a middle grade title from the always high quality Scientists in the Field Series, The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop.

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a book about hyenas. After all, they have a bad reputation, as the authors say, “widely considered to be dirty, ugly, and mean.” The fact the book was one of the Scientists in the Field series, however, convinced me to give it a try (well, that and it was nominated).  I’m glad I did.

It turns out that I knew very little about hyenas. Given their appearance, most people assume they are related to dogs. On the first page we learn that in fact they are more closely related to cats than dogs, and most closely related to mongooses. Mongooses?!

How many other common perceptions of them are wrong? A lot.

They are scavengers that slink around stealing prey from lions, right? Turns out that although hyenas do scavenge a bit, they are smart and formidable hunters. With careful observations, the featured scientist Kay Holekamp discovered that in fact lions steal prey from hyenas more often than the other way around.

Rather than give away all the surprises in the book, let’s just say your impression of hyenas will likely change after you read it. In fact, you just might want to go study them yourself.

And if you decide to do that, this book will show you what it might be like. As with the other books in the series, the scientists are at the center. We learn about how Kay Holecamp and her assistants came to study hyenas and how they go about it. For example, on pages 18-19 is the inspiring story of Dee. It turned out many years ago Dee worked at the Saint Louis Zoo and took on Kay as a student volunteer. Kay went off to school and Dee eventually went to another job because at the time women were only allowed to hold limited positions at zoos. However, Dee always loved animals and dreamed of going to Africa. Years later, at the age of sixty-nine she reconnected with Kay and her dreams came true. She now helps Kay at her field site. What an inspiring story.

I should also mention Nic Bishop’s fabulous photographs. I have been a long time fan, and I think his work is just getting better and better.

As you can tell, I really like this book. For readers interested in biology or what it takes to be a field biologists, The Hyena Scientist is a treasure trove. Delve into a copy today.

One final note:  as a middle grade title, this really is for older readers. Being about the biology of one of Africa’s top predators, there are some mature themes and graphic photographs.


Younger children can learn more about the spotted hyena at National Geographic Kids.

Although this video should come with a strong “don’t try this at home” warning, this video about a family that feed hyenas in Ethiopian city of Harar. They have developed an understanding of hyenas is quite fascinating. At the end are some shots of the area during the day. Click through to YouTube to see a detailed explanation of what you are seeing (in English).

See how big some of the animals are? Can you hear the men whistling to communicate to the hyenas? Hyenas are social creatures. Can you spot any social interactions?

Why do you think it is filmed at night?

Age Range: 10 – 12 years
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (May 15, 2018)
ISBN-10: 0544635116
ISBN-13: 978-0544635111

Interested in learning more about scientists? Check out the books in our growing list of Scientists in the Field books at Science Books for Kids.

Disclosure: This book was provided by our local library. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books. Note: this is a new link as of 10/2018.