Hot on the heels of Daring to Dig, here’s another book centered around the celebration of women in paleontology! Written by Margaret McNamara and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, The Dinosaur Expert tells the story of a young girl named Kimmy with a boundless enthusiasm for nature, especially fossils.
One day, her teacher Mr. Tiffin takes the class on a field trip to the natural history museum. (While the museum in the story is never named, a sufficiently entrenched dinosaur nerd like myself will immediately recognize it as the AMNH from the illustrations!) Having already studied dinosaurs in far greater detail than any of her classmates, she excitedly shares her knowledge with them as they view the fossils.
When Kimmy mentions her dream of becoming a scientist however, a classmate nonchalantly responds with the confident assertion that “girls aren’t scientists”. Embarrassed and deflated, Kimmy suddenly clams up. When Mr. Tiffin asks his class questions about the exhibits, Kimmy can barely manage to mumble the answers to herself under her breath, much less share them with the class. Mr. Tiffin notices the sudden evaporation of her enthusiasm, and as the class enters the hall of the mighty Titanosaur, he calls her over to some of the additional exhibits lining the hall.
There Kimmy finds the skeleton of a small herbivore named Gasparinisaura, which to her surprise bears the name of its discoverer, Dr. Zulma Brandoni de Gasparini. Kimmy is amazed to discover a women with her own dinosaur named after her, and quickly regains her enthusiasm, spending the rest of the trip once again sharing her knowledge with her impressed classmates.
The Dinosaur Expert not only tells an engaging story about a young girl regaining her self-confidence, but also serves as an effective demonstration of the need for representation and diversity. When Kimmy felt she had no place in the subject of her interest, not only did she personally experience the dejection of feeling cut off from her passion, but her classmates missed out on the opportunity to learn from the unique knowledge she had to share with them. This represents the greatest advantage of broad representation in any field; it brings all available perspectives and skillsets into play, allowing for greater overall achievements in the field in question. The Dinosaur Expert makes sure to practice what it preaches, too. In addition to featuring Brandoni de Gasparini in the story itself, she and several other women are included in an afterword describing their work in paleontology. Regular readers may note the inclusion of Karen Chin, who also starred in the subject of my last review, the similarly themed Daring to Dig! Speaking of, I find these two books pair very nicely together. While Daring to Dig goes into greater detail about the lives and research of actual working paleontologists, The Dinosaur Expert engages more directly with the central idea that the two books aim to promote.
Margaret McNamara delivers a well crafted children’s book that not only tells an engaging story, but also educates readers on an important topic. The illustrations by G. Brian Karas suit the story well. As I said of the artwork in Daring to Dig, I have a bias towards more precise illustrations, so I might normally feel tempted to look down on the dinosaur reconstructions in this book a bit. However, considering the book aims to tell a story from the perspective of a child, the illustrations feel fitting, and I must give Karas kudos for representing actual specimens clearly enough that we can identify the museum based on the skeletons featured.
I enjoyed reading The Dinosaur Expert, and my two young boys like it as well. While McNamara tells a story that will likely have the greatest impact on young girls, I recommend this for all young dinosaur-loving children. You can never go wrong bringing greater attention to the paleontologists behind the fossils! The Dinosaur Expert thus earns my Dino Dad Stomp of Approval.