Cover image for The mystery of the mammoth bones : and how it was solved
The mystery of the mammoth bones : and how it was solved
Giblin, James Cross, 1933-2016.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.
Physical Description:
97 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Describes the efforts of the artist, museum curator, and self-taught paleontologist, Charles Willson Peale, to excavate, study, and display the bones of a prehistoric creature that is later named "mastodon."
Reading Level:
1120 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 8.0 3.0 29527.

Reading Counts RC 3-5 5.4 6 Quiz: 13270.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QE707.P43 G53 1999 Juvenile Non-Fiction Open Shelf
QE707.P43 G53 1999 Juvenile Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
QE707.P43 G53 1999 Juvenile Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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When giant bones are found on a farm in New York State in 1801, no one knows what sort of creature they came from. Are they the fossilized bones of an elephant or of a mammoth, the huge animal that has recently been unearthed in northern Russia? Or do they come from a different animal entirely? There's only one way to find out--dig up and assemble a complete skeleton of the creature. And Charles Willson Peale is just the man to take on the job.

At the age of sixty, Peale has already made his mark as a portrait painter and scientist, as well as the founder of the first natural history museum in the United States. If he can put on display a skeleton of the mysterious creature, people will flock in even greater numbers to his Philadelphia museum. The skeleton may also help to prove a controversial new theory: that some animals that once roamed the Earth have become extinct.

As he searches for more bones, Peale must dig at several different sites. He is confronted by flooding, threats of cave-ins, and oppressive heat but persists in his quest. What he eventually finds confirms the existence of a previously unknown animal -- the mastodon It also provides solid evidence not only that some animals have become extinct, but also that the Earth is far older than anyone ever imagined.

Based on Charles Willson Peale's own diaries and journals, "The Mystery of the Mammoth Bones" is a gripping scientific thriller.

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Author Notes

James Cross Giblin was born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 8, 1933. He received a B. A. from Western Reserve University in 1954 and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University in 1955. He pursued playwriting before taking a job at Criterion Books in 1959. He focused on the children's book field. In the early to mid-1960s, he was an associate editor at Lothrop, Lee and Shepard. In 1967, he moved to Seabury Press, where he became editor-in-chief, spearheading the development of the children's book line there, later called Clarion Books. When Houghton Mifflin bought Clarion in the late 1970s, he moved to the company as Clarion's publisher. As an editor, he worked with such authors as Eileen Christelow and Mary Downing Hahn.

His first children's book, The Scarecrow Book written with Dale Ferguson, was published in 1980. During his lifetime, he wrote more than 20 books for young readers, mainly nonfiction, historical nonfiction, and biographies. He won several awards including the 1983 National Book Award for Chimney Sweeps: Yesterday and Today and the 2003 Sibert Medal for The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler. He died on April 10, 2016 at the age of 82.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 4^-8. "Less than two hundred years ago, no one knew that creatures like the dinosaurs had ever roamed the Earth. . . ." So begins this discussion of Charles Willson Peale and the mastodon (or mammoth) fossil bones he unearthed, studied, assembled, and displayed. Giblin ably describes the scientific and artistic pursuits of the remarkable Peale family, the difficult unearthing of the bones, and the subsequent history of the mammoth skeletons. Even better, he weaves Peale's story into the fabric of American and European history. And best of all, Giblin accomplishes something more subtle and more difficult: he gives readers a grasp of how times have changed, how accepted knowledge has changed, and how attitudes about that knowledge have changed over the past 200 years. As Giblin points out, when noted scientist Georges Cuvier stated in 1806 that there is no proof that the mastodon still lives, "this was the first time a respected scientist had openly acknowledged that a creature could become extinct." Many photographs, drawings, and paintings illustrate the book, which ends with the author's comments, a bibliography, and source notes. The subject may be a little off the beaten path of curriculum, but Giblin's insights make it well worth the trip. --Carolyn Phelan

Publisher's Weekly Review

With the pacing of an ace detective, Giblin (Charles Lindbergh) unveils the painstaking steps in artist and naturalist Charles Willson Peale's 1801 discovery of mammoth bones. Through a third-person narration of Peale's experience, Giblin establishes these fossils' revolutionary importance to science, technology and social history, beginning with Peale's exploratory digs, his assemblage of the first skeleton and its subsequent exhibition and controversy. Structuring the text in this way allows Giblin to deftly paint a turn-of-the-19th-century world and to demonstrate how this finding shook prevailing scientific and religious beliefs and contributed to current theories of evolution and extinction. Readers will devour the details that contrast Peale's time to today, such as the harrowing journey from Philadelphia to upstate New York (it took a day and a half just to get from Philadelphia to New York City, before sailing up the Hudson River in the days before steam power), a trip that today takes three hours, and President Thomas Jefferson's personal interest in and professional support of the excavation. Unfortunately, some details lack context, such as the original $200 pricetag of the bones without mention of what that sum could buy. After wrapping up this gripping mystery and its legacy, profusely illustrated with photographs of the mammoths and Peale's own sketches, Giblin concludes with a brief biography of the Renaissance man Peale and a summary of theories on mammoths and mastodons. Fans of all things dinosaur will find much to explore here, and readers may well be infected with Peale's pioneering spirit. Ages 8-12. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-6-Like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, Charles Willson Peale was a man of many talents. He was a skilled portrait artist, and he loved science. In 1786, he created the first American natural history museum, which displayed specimens of animals and birds along with some of his artwork. Whereas Janet Wilson's The Ingenious Mr. Peale (Atheneum, 1996) gives a well-rounded look at the man and his many accomplishments, Giblin concentrates on Peale's involvement in searching for and excavating mammoth bones. He takes readers back to a time before the discovery of dinosaurs, before Darwin's theory of evolution, before the modern conveniences of electricity and motors. At that time, Peale's ingenuity played a big part in his fossil hunting. For example, when mammoth bones were found in a swampy pit, he devised a giant wheel with buckets to drain the water away. Giblin's research is superb, and he turns to Peale's actual notes for details. He also includes recent information about the mammoth (and mastodon). The author makes clear how revolutionary it was for Peale to suggest that these animals had become extinct at a time when the Bible was still interpreted literally. Black-and-white photos of fossil remains and mastodon skeletons appear throughout along with numerous reproductions that include sketches and paintings done by Peale and his artist son. This refreshing title celebrates a great American for his investigative and artistic skills in solving one of natural science's great puzzles.-Cathryn A. Camper, Minneapolis Public Library (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.