I’ve been meaning to feature more storybooks at this site, and with production on the upcoming Mary Anning biopic Ammonite ramping up, I’m feeling in a very Mary Anning sort of mood right now. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of books on this heroine of paleontology. As one of the most important figures in the early days of paleontological inquiry, she has since become one of the most famous as well, despite working in more or less obscurity in her own time.
Stone Girl, Bone Girl has similarly languished on my shelf ever since I received as a gift a while back, and I feel it likewise deserves to have its chance in the spotlight. Written by Laurence Anholt and illustrated by Sheila Moxley, the book presents readers with a basic overview of Mary Anning’s childhood, from the lightning strike that nearly killed her as a baby, to her relationship with the similarly fossil-loving Philpott sisters, and ending with her fabled discovery of the first Ichthyosaurus.
The author writes in an approachable style suitable for elementary school age readers, though I’m not sure about some of the license the author takes to spruce up the story. The story adds in a vaguely mystical dog, implying some sort of connection with Mary’s late father, appearing after his death sporting similarly colored hair, and disappearing after she discovers her Ichthyosaurus, “As if he had done his work and drifted away.” The book claims the sale of said Ichthyosaur made enough money for Anning and her mother to live happily the rest of their lives, when in fact she struggled with poverty all her life. I suppose one can make the argument for a bit of artistic liberty, but these particular aspects of the book felt a little too “Disneyfied” for my tastes (and I mean that as a negative despite identifying as a life-long Disney fan). It’s perfectly fine if one doesn’t feel like wearing down their young readers with the slog of a work-a-day life, but the inclusion of these almost fairy tale type elements rubbed me the wrong way just a bit.
Moxley paints her illustrations in a somewhat abstract style, generally not conforming the scenery to the viewer’s perspective. It’s an interesting art style, and I appreciate artists who shake things up by breaking from from more styles more typical to paleontology themed books. I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of this particular instance, but I also acknowledge this is more personal preference than anything else. I might be slightly biased against the artwork since despite no mentions of dinosaurs in the text, several illustrations (including the front cover) seem to imply Mary Anning worked on these popular beasties. Dinosaurs weren’t discovered until well into Mary Anning’s career, and she always stuck with her local prehistoric marine fossils, which I personally think are interesting enough to stand on their own, no dino fanboy pandering required. At least the text itself doesn’t directly connect her to dinosaurs, which is more than can be said for The Dog That Dug For Dinosaurs and the otherwise-excellent Dinosaur Lady.
Despite my reservations, Stone Girl, Bone Girl presents an engaging story that introduces young readers to one of the giants among fossil hunters. Mary Anning deserves all the acclaim she receives, and if this book earns her a few more young fans, then I suppose that’s good enough for me. If you have older readers though, I suggest the historical fiction chapter book Mary Anning’s Curiosity, which covers the same time period as this book, but with greater fidelity to the real Anning’s life. Incidentally, if this post has gotten YOU excited about Mary Anning, I would be remiss if I didn’t plug Mary Anning Rocks! They are raising money in to erect a statue of Mary Anning in her hometown of Lyme Regis, which you can donate to on their website here. Be sure to follow their official Twitter account for more updates! Consider following me on Twitter and Instagram as well to keep abreast of future book reviews, including several more Mary Anning books I happen to have on hand!