Valdez introduces Joan Procter, whose lifelong love of reptiles yielded a career at London’s Natural History Museum and the London Zoo.
Avid for reptiles from childhood, Joan received a crocodile for her 16th birthday. First assisting, then succeeding the museum’s curator of reptiles, Joan surveyed the collections, published papers, and made models for exhibits. Her designs for the zoo’s reptile house incorporated innovative lighting and heating as well as plants and artwork evoking the reptiles’ habitats. Joan’s reputation soared with the arrival of two 7-foot-long Komodo dragons, coinciding with the reptile house’s opening. Presenting a paper at the Zoological Society, Joan brought along one of them, Sumbawa, who ate a pigeon whole and strolled among attendees. Valdez’s narrative alludes to Procter’s poor health obliquely: pet reptiles cheered her “on the days Joan was too sick to attend school,” and a later spread depicts her “riding through the zoo” in a wheelchair. (An appended note explains that a “chronic intestinal illness” led to Joan’s death at just 34.) Sala portrays stylized reptiles and 1920s-era British clothing. People’s skin tones range from stark white to various tans and browns. Indeed, although she was white, Joan’s skin varies throughout, sometimes appearing white and pink and others times various shades of beige.
This view into Procter’s brief life connects her early passion for reptiles with her innovative career combining scientific research, practice, art, and design. (author’s note, bibliography of primary sources, photographs) (Picture book/biography. 6-8)