Fossil Huntress: Mary Leakey, Paleontologist

Around the time I posted my review of Daring to Dig, I coincidentally stumbled across author Andi Diehn on social media (give her a follow on Twitter and Instagram!), and her books on famous women in science. Of course, Fossil Huntress, featuring the story of Mary Leakey, immediately caught my eye. After expressing my interest, Andi kindly offered to send me a copy, and so now I get to introduce it to my readers!

Anyone with even a passing interest in human origins has doubtless heard of one or more of the members of the famed Leakey family. This paleoanthropological dynasty got its start with Louis Leakey and continues to this day, most famously with Richard Leakey, but today’s book focuses entirely on Mary Leakey, the matriarch of the family.

16 mya

Refreshingly (since as my wife can confirm, I am terrible at estimating age ranges for children), the book has an explicit age recommendation on the back, suggesting it for kids 5-8 years old. Diehn writes at an appropriate level for this young audience. My own five year old can easily read it himself, though he doesn’t quite have the patience to read through the whole thing yet.

Laetoli hominin

The story hits the key beats of Mary Leakey’s life, describing her early life, including the illustration work she did for Louis’ book “Adam’s Ancestors”. Readers are introduced to several of her major discoveries in East Africa, including the Laetoli footprints, though footprints and fossils are never explicitly named in the book, even in the glossary in the back. I feel a “further reading” section of some sort that mentions these discoveries by name might help inspire future readers to do research of their own on these fossils.

Laetoli footprint

The illustrations by Katie Mazeika nicely compliment the story, and are perfectly suited to the target audience of the book. The recreation of the hominid responsible for creating the Laetoli footprints probably errs a little on the side of more apelike rather than human like in appearance, but I admit there’s plenty of room for interpretation on this point.

This pic should give you a rough idea of what the book looks like in-hand.

Diehn includes some extra information in the back of the book, such as a basic timeline of major events in Mary’s life, a glossary, and even a selection of quotes from Mary herself that the author encourages readers to match up with the most appropriate point in the story.

Regular readers may have noticed that I’ve been on something of a “female paleontologists” kick recently, and this book nicely compliments the lot of them. Fossil Huntress introduces young readers to a critical expert in the field of paleoanthropology. Unlike many of the women featured in books like Daring to Dig, The Dinosaur Expert, and Stone Girl, Bone Girl, Mary Leakey’s accomplishments were never diminished even in her own time. That in itself deserves recognition, however, and seeing as discussions of human origins don’t often find their way into children’s literature, I imagine this will all be new to the book’s audience anyway.

If you’re looking to inspire your child with stories of famous scientists, whether male or female, I highly recommend Fossil Huntress to introduce them to one of the most important paleontologists of the 20th Century. Cheers to Mary Leakey! Incidentally, since I found this book on social media, it only seems sensible to plug my Twitter and Instagram accounts. Follow me there for extra content and the latest updates! For more books on human evolution, check out my reviews of When We Became HumansGrandmother FishMega Meltdown, & Mammal Takeover! (Earth Before Us #3).


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