Carved out and buffed up from historical records, an imagined account of the great fossil hunter’s early life and groundbreaking career.
Following an account of the lightning strike that killed several adults but spared the 15-month-old Mary, Kulling skips ahead to record the child’s deep delight at getting a rock hammer for her eighth birthday. Between that and Anning’s laborious extraction of a great ichthyosaur skeleton at age 12, in 1811, the author chronicles her sometimes-hazardous search for fossil ammonites and other “curiosities” (as they were then called) to sell as the family livelihood—first with her father and then, after his disabling accident and early death, largely alone. Period details of everyday life in Lyme Regis, both in the narrative and in Castrillón’s delicate illustrations, and embroidered encounters with rival fossil hunters and collectors flesh out the story; notes at the end wire together explanations of what fossils are with descriptions of some of Anning’s other discoveries and their subsequent histories. Though here at least she seems almost relieved to quit school at the earliest opportunity to pursue her vocation, Mary presents an admirable role model for her lively mind, independent spirit, and a continuing sense of wonder that drives her to chip away at nature’s mysteries.
An alternative to the shelf full of picture-book biographies, for readers who may find Sheila Cole’s Dragon in the Cliff, illustrated by T.C. Farrow (1991) hard to read or get. (bibliography) (Historical fiction. 9-11)