Book Recommendation – Mary Anning’s Curiosity

Title: Mary Anning’s Curiosity

Author: Monica Kulling

Illustraions by: Melissa Castrillon

Publisher: Groundwood Books, 2017

Ages: 7-11+

Themes: fossils, paleontology, scientific discovery, mighty girls






Long Ago in Lyme Regis

More than two hundred years ago, a traveling fair came to the seaside town of Lyme Regis on the south coast of England. People left their tasks to see horses jumping and riders performing stunts.


Mary Anning’s Curiosity is set over 200 years ago in a small coastal town in the south of England. These opening lines set the scene for the first of many extraordinary things about Mary Anning. While most of Mary’s siblings die very young, as a baby, Mary herself survives a lightning strike that kills the three adults she is with. In the early pages, we meet a poor family, and a father with a passion for finding and selling fossils from the local beach.  She grows up sturdy and strong, and from a young age she follows her dad and brother out onto the beach to hunt for fossils. Sadly, young Mary’s father dies following an accident and the family falls into severe debt. While a super smart student, Mary quits school despite her mother’s resistance, to pursue her eccentric fossil-hunting father’s passions along the seashore in Lyme Regis. Mary’s curiosity is fueled by the desire to find the town’s mythical giant crocodile in the cliffs above the beach, and help pay off the weighty family debt. In 1811, Mary, aged 12, along with her elder brother Joe, discover the fossilized eye that would lead to the finding of the entire skeleton of what would later be named an Ichthyosaurus.

Why I like this book:

This is a gem of a book. A short historical novel aimed at elementary age readers, but utterly accessible for all ages. I have a degree in anthropology, have participated in water sports in Lyme Regis, and am a big fan of Mary Anning, a historical figure who deserves more visibility. We teach all (or maybe most depending on the country) young students about Darwin, so why aren’t we teaching them about the groundbreaking discoveries of this woman who predates him? This is a gripping story of a mighty young girl, her passion, perseverance and her unique contribution to paleontology.

Kulling details Mary’s smarts, focus, passion and patience in her hunt and then year-long excavation of the ‘giant crocodile’. In a time when girls’ employment was incredibly limited, Mary Anning develops a curiosity and natural skill as a fossil hunter. The descriptions of her scouring the beach and cliffs near her home are inspiring, as are her and Joe’s attempts to thwart the attention of a seemingly greedy, fossil-hungry Captain (a terrific antagonist in the story.)

This is an unusual read, brief, yet packed with passion about a young woman who has made an incredible contribution to science. It is a fictionalized biography of adventure and discovery, and a book I would highly recommend to teachers and librarians to add to their shelves.


  • The book contains: an author’s note, and more information about fossils, Mary and the Jurassic Coast.
  • Go fossil hunting with your child! Fossils can be found everywhere, even in your own backyard or in your own town. Find local areas where fossils have been found. Many communities have fossil enthusiasts who know the best places to find fossil plants and animals. Riverbeds and creeks are great places to find fossils because water erodes the sediment and the earth is soft enough to expose fossils.
  • Help your child collect a few items to “fossilize” like leaves, feathers, pine needles, shells, even chicken bones. Then make a bowl shape out of aluminum foil. Fill the bowl half way with plaster of Paris and press your items into the wet plaster. Wait 20-30 minutes until the plaster is mostly dry and remove your objects carefully. As your child to imagine what paleontologists of the future might learn from this fossil about plants and animals of our time.

Fossil Teeth found last week after Hurricane Irma at Folly Beach, SC, by one of my favorite YA librarian colleagues, ANDRIA AMARAL



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Crocodali – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Crocodali

Author & Illustrator: Lucy Volpin

Publisher: Little Bee, 2017

Ages: 4-8

Themes: Dali, abstract art, interactive story

Genre: fiction

4o pages


I am Crocodali, the most talented

painter in the whole wide world.

And you are in my studio!



This is an interactive picture book, where your readers are invited to follow Crocodali the painter’s instructions to help him create a masterpiece that will spark children’s curiosity! Crocodali tells readers to tilt the book to straighten the canvas, shake the book to spread the paint, blow on the book (but not too hard!) to help the painting dry, and much more. As they help Crocodali paint his masterpiece, children will be able to express their creative sides and learn to appreciate art.

Why I like this book:

I will start by saying I am not a huge fan of interactive picture books, but this one drew me in (pun intended!) Like a big kid, I totally followed all of Crocodali’s instructions as I read to myself on my couch! And, yup, I got a big kid thrill out of our finished painting (way better than anything I could achieve alone.) I think teachers and librarians will have a hard time holding onto this one as little hands and fingers want to try for themselves.

Our crocodile artist is a hoot, and of course, I also LOVE the nod the the great surrealist himself! This is a great addition to any units on abstract art with young kids.



Don’t miss this interview that I did with Lucy Volpin this week.

Abstract art for preschoolers. 

Teach Kids Art has some great lessons

Three recommended picture books to read with this.


Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

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Lucy Volpin – Illustrator Interview

I asked Lucy for an interview because her publisher sent me her latest book Crocodali to review for this Friday’s Perfect Picture Book. I loved the story and art so much I sought her ought on FB. Plus, she’s a fellow Brit!





[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?  If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[LV] I am an author and illustrator. Each new idea is very different from the next and so some start with a character design or little sketch, and some start with a cheeky rhyme or even just a funny word.                                         

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[LV] I originate from East Grinstead in Sussex but moved down to Devon when I was 6 years old. I don’t really feel that my location has influenced my work in a particular way but I do get a lot of my inspiration from the people around me, be it family, friends and random strangers. Devon has such a lovely, slow pace of life and such a luscious greenness to it. Perhaps this has influenced the bright colours I love to use?

[JM] I lived in Exeter from 96-99! Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[LV] Ive always loved to draw but my journey to becoming an illustrator started at primary school. 20 years ago dyslexia was a term that was reasonably unheard of. Instead of receiving some of the fantastic extra help that children receive today, I was considered as ‘slow’ and ‘unintelligent’ and was asked to sit in the corner and draw while the other children were taught to read and write. At the time I thought this was fantastic! I loved to draw! Little did I understand that learning to read and write would be quite important in life…

My wonderful mum transferred me from school to school just looking for one that acknowledged my difficulties and was willing to try different approaches to my learning. We finally found a fantastic school which resulted in me learning to read at the age of 12, but my love for the pencil continued and grew and from then on I knew I wanted to be an artist. …Or a palaeontologist.

After struggling through the rest of school, which actually I really enjoyed, I made my way to University College Falmouth where I gained a BA(Hons) in illustration specialising in children’s books in 2011. Since then I have spent most of my days in my studio, experimenting, building a portfolio, creating books and making mess!

[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

[LV] I mostly use a mixture of watercolours, acrylic inks and coloured pencils. I can not explain how much I love a good coloured pencil! I feel that I can get some much control from them and the colours are endless. Ocha yellow seems to be my favourite at the moment.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe from a work in progress, or CROCODALI, and the process of creating them?

[LV] ‘Crocodali’ was published in August this year by Templar Publishing in the UK and Little Bee in the USA. After my first book, ‘We Love Dinosaurs’, I felt a bit stuck in a rut and was developing work and ideas very slowly, so I gave myself a 1 week project to produce a book. Only 1 week. It was for my development only and it was just to try and get my creativity and speed going again.

It was a really shock for me to discover that at the end of that 1 week I had produced something a bit different, funny, and possibly good enough to send to publishers. I sent it off as a rough text and layout and Templar snapped it up!

Maybe this shows that trying too hard doesn’t work, and perhaps relaxing allows ideas to form naturally?

As you can see, Crocodali as a character has developed quite a bit, but other things such as layout haven’t changed that much from initial idea sketch to final artwork, especially the front cover, which was one of the first images I created .

[JM] What was the first book you remember buying with your own money?

[LV] That’s a tricky questions. I hated books as a child. School had convinced me that books weren’t for me, so I think I was well into my 20’s when I brought my first book and it was most likely a children’s picture book! I was, however, read to a lot by my mum, which ignited my love for Dr Seuss. ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ was my favourite, which I could recite back to my mum off by heart. I liked that because it made me look like I could read, but in fact it was all from memory.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[LV] I work from a shed in my garden. It is usually a bit of a mess but that’s how I like it. I am very lucky to have a space of my own that is away from the house. At the end of a long day of painting it allows me to be able to shut the door and distance myself from my work, which I find very helpful. I have a spider that lives in my window. He has lived along side me for over a year now.

[JM] Have you named your spider? What artwork do you have hanging in your new home? 

[LV] I am a real fan of vintage advertising and old maps so I have a mixture of things on my walls. The classic car illustrations are actually vintage postcards and were from my husband’s grandfather. I love them.

[JM] At what moment in your process do you start working on endpapers?

[LV] Right from the beginning! I feel endpapers are just as important as the rest of the book. They set the tone and can influence the readers first impressions. I also like to include the endpapers, where I can, in the story. For example, in ‘Crocodile’ I use the endpapers to show the character getting ready in his studio. You only get 32 pages…use them all wisely!

[JM] If I could offer you a tour from an expert around any art museum in the world, which would you choose?

[LV] Oh, tricky. I haven’t really visited many art museums. To be honest I’m not a huge art fan…shhh…don’t tell anyone! I do, of course, love Salvador Dali! A tour with an expert around his home in Figueres, Spain would be fab.

Now..had you just said ‘museum’ I would have a huge list! I have a big interest in war, medical and natural history, so a guided tour around all of the museums in London would be brilliant! 

Five Fun Ones to Finish?
[JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world? 

[LV] I have recently returned to roller skating and so any park with a smooth, flat surface is lots of fun! I am still a bit wobbly though! Exeter has some wonderful parks and a beautiful quay to skate around.

[JM] Cats or dogs? 

[LV] Dogs. Cats make me sneeze.

During the week I spend my time with this cheeky chap, Remy the Beagle. Remy is my mum’s dog, but as I work from home, I look after Rem while Mum’s away during the day. This means I get lots of lovely fresh air on doggy walks at lunch time.  A lot of my ideas and problem solving is done while walking Rem.

He loves nothing better than a long walk and then snoozing in the sun.

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[LV] I can recite the entire words to Les Miserables on demand. I have a memory for lyrics. Once I have listened to a song or poem only a couple of times, I will have learnt the lyrics of by heart and there they will stay in my brain forever. Sadly it doesn’t work for everything. I can only remember three phone numbers…

[JM] What as your first paid job after high school?

[LV] I worked as a Saturday girl in Debenhams for a year during college. I was allocated the soft furnishings and towel section. Incredibly boring but if you ever need advise on thread count or tog ratings of duvets..I’m your girl!

After that I started work as a nanny and have continued to do so part-time ever since. It is such a fantastic job and a great role to do along side children’s books. I feel so privileged to be part of a family and watch them grow and develop from baby to little adult. I have so far nannied 8 children.

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[LV] Popcorn is always a winner. Tasty and easy to eat while drawing.

Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Lucy.




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