Review: Mary Anning’s Curiosity by Monica Kulling, with illus. by Melissa Castrillon
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Groundwood Books. Thank you!
Publication: May 1, 2017 by Groundwood Books
Mary Anning, considered the world’s greatest fossilist, discovered her first big find at the age of twelve. This novel is an imaginative re-creation of her childhood in early nineteenth-century Lyme Regis.
Mary was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, England, to a poor family. She and her older brother were the only two of ten children to survive. Her father, a carpenter and part-time fossil hunter, taught his children to look for fossils. When her father injured himself and was unable to work, Mary quit school and took up fossil hunting full-time to help support her family, a task that became even more important when her father died, leaving the Annings in debt.At the age of twelve, Mary, with her older brother Joe, found what they believed to be the skeleton of a gigantic crocodile, the Great Croc of the legends. Between dodging her rival fossil hunter, the Curiman, and the sheer work of carefully digging out the fossil, Mary took almost a year to excavate what would later be termed the Ichthyosaurus.
Mary Anning may have been uneducated, poor and a woman, but her life’s work of fossil hunting led her to make many discoveries that influenced our understanding of prehistoric creatures and the age of the Earth. In 2010, Mary was named among the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science. Charles Darwin even cited Mary’s fossilized creatures as evidence in his book On the Origin of Species.
In this triumphant novel about scientific discovery, Monica Kulling brings Mary Anning and her world to life for young readers.
To think, a mere lass, with little schooling, did what those great scientists do all the time- and all of them big men, mind. It boggles my mind, it does. I can’t help but wonder what else you are destined to do.
An out of the ordinary, gorgeous treasure of a book, Mary Anning’s Curiosity is one of the few books I’ve read so far this year in one sitting. Written by Canadian author Monica Kulling, with marvelous illustrations by Melissa Castrillon, Mary Anning’s Curiosity gives readers a look into the earlier life of groundbreaking, celebrated fossilist Mary Anning and her earlier fossil discoveries in and around her place of birth of Lyme Regis, England.
Mary Anning’s Curiosity mostly focuses upon Mary and the year in which she, and her brother Joe, discover, dig and excavate an incredible fossil that was later named the Ichthyosaurus. Before we dive into that time, though, readers are taken into a bit of introduction to Mary and the Anning household. Kulling concisely and candidly describes the serious hardships faced by Mary’s Ma and Pa and their constant struggle with making enough to survive. We learn that Mary’s Ma wants more for her daughter than this life- the life of following in her father’s footsteps as an eccentric fossil hunter, forever in danger by the cliffs. And while Mary does indeed like school and learning “new words, fancy words”- the things that make her Ma happy- her life is the shoreline, the cliffs and beaches, carefully digging for curiosities- just like her Pa and brother. When Mary and Joe’s dad becomes incapacitated after a fall, though, Mary’s drive to hunt fossils, to make money and help her family, completely becomes her life from the age of eleven. In 1811, Mary and Joe’s dig that would lead to the finding of the Ichthyosaurus, begins. Kulling fascinatingly describes Mary’s intensity, focus, fervor and patience in her excavation; her tremendous and natural skills as a fossil hunter; as well as her and Joe’s attempts to thwart the attention of a seemingly greedy, fossil-hungry Captain.
Overall, an excellent, unusual read, providing readers of all ages tremendous insight into the life of an incredible woman of science and discovery. The growing number of books in children’s fiction and non-fiction titles that are delving into the lives of lesser-known trailblazers, staggering minds and discoveries is a joy to see and experience. With Mary Anning’s Curiosity, Monica Kulling has provided a stellar entry into children’s literature: one that not only excels as a fascinating shorter novel on its own accord, but also one that stands as a successful and awe-inspiring fictionalized biography. I do hope readers both young and old get a chance to pick this gem up!
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.