Kid Lit Review of “Dinosaur Lady” by Linda Skeers

As the subtitle says, this book tells the story for kids of “The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist.”

Mary Anning was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, on the southern shores of Great Britain. Mary’s father Richard collected fossils from the cliffs at Lyme Regis to sell. That area was (and still is) known for its rich deposits from the Jurassic period.

By the time she was five or six, Mary and her brother Joseph were accompanying their father on his fossil-collecting trips. Richard taught them how to look for and clean the fossils they found on the beach, and he often displayed and sold them from his shop.

Richard died suddenly when Mary was 11, and Joseph had to find a career to help support the family. Mary’s mother encouraged Mary to keep finding fossils to add to their income.

Joseph had previously found a fossilized skull, and when Mary was 12, she dug out its whole skeleton. The mysterious specimen was studied and debated for years. It was later named Ichthyosaurus, or ‘fish lizard’ – though we now know it was neither fish nor lizard, but a marine reptile. It lived 201-194 million years ago.

Perhaps most remarkably, Mary discovered that the skeletons she found were full of dark, lumpy pebbles. She eventually proclaimed these these stones, known as bezoars, were, as the author writes, “actually fossilized POOP!” Mary’s discovery, Skeers notes, helped scholars learn more about what ancient creatures ate.

She also researched long, thin, cone-shaped fossils that turned out to contain ink when water was added, proving “that ancient aquatic creatures squirted ink to hide themselves from hungry predators.”

In 1823 when Mary was 24, she was the first to discover the complete skeleton of a plesiosaurus, a prehistoric flying reptile.

Even with all of this, Mary couldn’t join the Geological Society of London, because women weren’t allowed. She couldn’t attend lectures or take university classes. But, Skeers reports, when geologists, scientists, and scholars had questions about the Earth’s past, they went to Mary’s cottage. In 1844, even King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony visited Mary in her shop!

Nevertheless, the majority of Mary’s finds ended up in museums and personal collections without credit being given to her as the discoverer of the fossils.

Slowly, the author concludes, Mary’s achievements have been uncovered and acknowledged.

The author ends with “Bone Bits and Fossil Facts” and a timeline of Mary Anning’s life. Mary died from breast cancer in 1847. She was only 47 years old, and still under financial strain. But the timeline extends to 2010, when the Royal Society of London named Marry Anning as one of the ten most influential British women of science. There is also an Author’s Note and bibliography.

Illustrations by Marta Álvarez Miguéns show plenty of fossils as background in each two-page spread.

Evaluation: This picture book for readers ages 6 and up conveys Mary’s dogged curiosity and determination, as well as the barriers she had to face as a female. It is bound to arouse interest in readers not only about Mary but about paleontology.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Sourcebooks Explore, 2020

Mary Anning’s sketch of her first plesiosaur, via UK Natural History Museum

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1 Response to Kid Lit Review of “Dinosaur Lady” by Linda Skeers

  1. These illustrations! So pretty!

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