Special Author: Sally M. Walker
Mary Anning: Fossil Hunter
Walker, Sally M. 2007. Mary Anning: Fossil Hunter. Illustrated by Phyllis V. Saroff. New York: First Avenue Editions.
Mary Anning: Fossil Hunter is an excellent biography written by Sally M. Walker. In this informational book Ms. Walker tells the story of Mary Anning and her life spent collecting and indentifying major fossils. For most of her life Ms. Anning did not receive credit for the fossils she found even though her finds had a great impact in Paleontology in 19th century England. Ms. Anning’s father was a furniture carpenter and sold the fossils in his shop. By the time of Ms. Anning’s death in 1847 she was considered to be one of the greatest fossil collectors, dealers and paleontologist of her time. She was known around the world for a number of important finds she made in the Jurassic marine fossil beds at Lyme Regis in Dorset where she lived. Her work contributed to fundamental changes that occurred during her lifetime in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth.
Sally Walker’s biography of Mary Anning is a wonderful telling of a female scientist in the male dominated world of Paleontology. Ms. Anning, who discovered many of the best and most complete fossils in nineteenth-century England, is described as a curious, intelligent woman who began collecting rare fossils to help support her family. This biography is well organized with a factual timeline of Ms. Anning’s life. The story is accurate, well written, and portrays Mary Anning as a heroine. Children of all ages, especially girls, will relish the idea of being a “treasure hunter”. This book provides a well rounded portrait of Mary Anning and her life as a fossil hunter. The illustrations by Phyllis V. Saroff matched the book’s text, but they seemed extremely dreary. The colors were not vibrant, mostly brown, light blue and grey, and some drawings of Ms. Anning seemed to be better suited to a “cliff side murder mystery”. The illustrator should have “painted” Ms. Anning with more color and made the cliff side scenes more dramatic to illustrate her risk taking profession.
IRA/CBC Children’s Choice Award
Throughout the 20th century, beginning with H.A. Forde and his The Heroine of Lyme Regis: The Story of Mary Anning the Celebrated Geologist (1925), a number of writers saw Anning’s life as inspirational. She was even the basis of Terry Sullivan’s 1908 tongue twister, “She sells seashells,” according to P.J. McCartney in Henry de la Beche (1978):
She sells seashells on the seashore
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure
So if she sells seashells on the seashore
Then I’m sure she sells seashore shells.
Charles Dickens wrote an article about her life in February 1865 in his literary magazine All the Year Round that emphasized the difficulties she had overcome, especially the skepticism of her fellow townspeople. He ended the article with: “The carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it.”
School Library Journal: “Anning has been the subject of a spate of recent titles, such as Catherine Brighton’s heavily pictorial The Fossil Girl (Millbrook, 1999), Don Brown’s more difficult but still pictorial Rare Treasure (Houghton, 1999), Dennis Fradin’s yet more difficult and still heavily illustrated Mary Anning (Silver, 1997; o.p.), and Jeannine Atkins’s almost picture-bookish in appearance Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon (Farrar, 1999). Such a rash of simple biographies on one woman may seem the outside of enough, but Walker’s large print, short sentences, and easy text, with an authoritative bibliography appended, places Anning’s life and accomplishments well within the personal grasp of young readers. Realistic illustrations, appropriately done in earth tones, accompany the readable narrative, and the whole is made complete with an afterword about the scientist’s legacy.”
Children’s Literature: “The bicentennial of Mary Anning’s birth produced a plethora of biographies, some with handsome illustrations and vigorous prose. This biography has neither, with average but scientifically correct illustrations in tones of beige, browns and greys and a straightforward controlled vocabulary. However, this biography does the job with emphasis on the role her brother Joseph had in her discoveries of an ichthyosaur skeleton, and her discoveries made later in life. Based on a long list of primary sources, this is a valid informational book for young report-writers, with a timeline and an afterword included, but no index. Part of the “On My Own Biography” series.
Introduce a discussion about fossils.
Ask who has visited a museum to see the dinosaur exhibits?
Discuss male versus female roles in science and medicine.
Atkins, Jeannine. 2012. Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon. Illustrated by Michael Dooling. Charleston, S.C.: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Anholt, Laurence.2006. Stone Girl Bone Girl: The Story of Mary Anning. Illustrated by Sheila Moxley. London: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.
Cole, Sheila.1991. The Dragon in the Cliff. Illustrated by T. C. Farrow. Bel Air, CA: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard.