Title: Mary Anning’s Curiosity
Author: Monica Kulling
Illustraions by: Melissa Castrillon
Publisher: Groundwood Books, 2017
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.