A Dinosaur Named Ruth: How Ruth Mason Discovered Fossils in Her Own Backyard by Julia Lyon, illustrated by Alexandra Bye. Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster, 2021. 9781534474642
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3
Format: Picture book
What did you like about the book? What if you found a dinosaur but no one would listen to you? This was the case for 7-year-old Ruth Mason, who lived in her family’s log cabin near South Dakota’s Badlands. In 1905, Ruth picked up mysterious bits that look like vertebra, teeth, and claws and began to build a growing collection. She wrote letters to museums and experts, including drawings of her findings, but continuously received the same message: that her treasures were nothing special. Finally, when Ruth was 80 (!) a fossil hunter named Rick Brooks showed up and began large scale excavations at what would come to be known as the Ruth Mason Quarry. The colorful digital illustrations in this oversized picture book bleed right to the edge of each page, emphasizing the gargantuan nature of Ruth’s discoveries. Ruth definitely rocks a Disney-esque princess vibe in her early years, with large, long-lashed eyes and artfully braided long hair. The Badlands glow with a color palette of yellow, dun, pink, and purple, marked by the occasional pop of green. This book is a decent exploration of citizen scientists, personal determination, and commitment. Back matter includes an author’s note (with more specifics about South Dakota history, Ruth’s life, and the role of the Black Hills Institute in excavating the quarry), a description of the dinosaur that bear’s Ruth’s name (a duck-billed one), and a short “read more” list.
Anything you didn’t like about it? Odd that we never meet Ruth’s parents (she seems to live alone in the cabin) or hear anything about what it might be like to grow up as a girl interested in science in the 1900s. Why didn’t experts respond to Ruth? Was it because she was young, a girl, not an expert? Lyon doesn’t answer these questions; in fact, she never even poses them. Although they’re certainly eye-catching, I didn’t think the cartoonish illustrations were particularly well-suited to the subject matter. The lack of detail made it hard for me to gauge the relative size or condition of Ruth’s collected bones or even figure out what I was looking at.
To whom would you recommend this book? This could be a read aloud option for a storytime or lesson on citizen scientists or notable women.. Diehard dino-enthusiasts who dream of finding bones in their backyards (warning, the title is a euphemism as Ruth’s yard is basically the Badlands) may be inspired to look more closely at their own property for natural wonders.
Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? Toss up: biography or 567.9. I’d be inclined to keep it with the dinosaur offerings.
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: December 5, 2021