Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a starred review) 5
Genre: middle-grade biographical fiction
What did you like about the book? The story is based on the life of Mary Anning, who discovered a significant fossil when she was 12 years old and never stopped making scientific discoveries throughout her life. Although she came from a poor family and had very little education, her discoveries were noted by Charles Darwin in his book The Origin of the Species. This story traces Mary’s childhood in the early 1800s, as she and her brother Joe work alongside their idealistic, scientist father until his untimely death. With the threat of debtor’s prison looming over her family, Mary leaves school to help earn money by finding and selling shells, fossils, and other curiosities she unearths along the shore near her home. Mary’s story should inspire young readers to seek unconventional paths, to work hard and to never give up hope. An author’s note and suggestions for further reading will be helpful for readers seeking more information about Mary and her fossils, and also for separating the facts of Mary’s life from the fictional account.
Anything you didn’t like about it? More of a caveat: readers should be prepared for the fact that Mary’s story is grim. The family faces hunger and debt, and her mother loses several babies and suffers from understandable depression, especially after the loss of her husband. However, these struggles are presented in an age-appropriate manner, and readers who are overcoming obstacles in their own lives should identify with spunky, hard-working, fearless Mary. She is an excellent and sympathetic role model.
To whom would you recommend this book? Read Alikes? Recommend to readers seeking real-life stories with inspiring protagonists. The short length may appeal to reluctant readers, and Mary’s story should keep both boys and girls turning the pages. Also recommend The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan.
Who should buy this book? Public libraries and elementary schools.
Where would you shelve it ? Middle-grade fiction.
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Near the top, if you have time.
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Renée Wheeler, Leominster Public Library, Leominster, MA
Date of review: January 30, 2017