cover image Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon

Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon

Jeannine Atkins. Farrar Straus Giroux, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-374-34840-3

While Don Brown's Rare Treasure (reviewed above) took a larger view of Mary Anning's life and work, Atkins zooms in on the girl's first major discovery (at age 12), igniting the scientist's lifelong vocation. Though the narrative begins after the death of Mary's father, his words are still very much alive in her: ""Don't ever stop looking, Mary."" She knows there is something hidden in the cliffs of Lyme Regis, something more than just the shells and stone sea lilies that the tourists buy from her family's ""Gifts and Curiosities"" shop. And Mary isn't about to let the townspeople's gossip and criticism of her hammer, chisel and sturdy top hat (worn for protection from falling rocks) stop her. When she unearths a tooth embedded in a stone, Mary spends months tapping and brushing, chiseling and digging, unearthing a face almost four feet long. Atkins (A Name on the Quilt) presents a sensitive if romanticized portrait of the real-life discoverer of the first complete ichthyosaur fossil. Dooling's (George Washington) illustrations help establish the early-19th-century setting, particularly his atmospheric oil paintings of fog-enshrouded seascapes, but the portraits of Mary don't convey much emotional range. Still, the patience and dogged determination of the unconventional Mary shines through, making her story one not only for dinosaur-lovers, but for those who appreciate stories of strong girls as well. Ages 5-up. (Sept.)