Cover image for Mary Anning and the sea dragon
Mary Anning and the sea dragon
Atkins, Jeannine, 1953-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999.
Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 30 cm
An account of the finding of the first entire skeleton of an ichthyosaur, an extinct sea reptile, by a twelve-year-old English girl who went on to become a paleontologist.
Reading Level:
AD 560 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR LG 4.6 0.5 35822.

Reading Counts RC K-2 2.8 2 Quiz: 20925.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QE707.A56 A74 1999 Juvenile Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
QE707.A56 A74 1999 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography
QE707.A56 A74 1999 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography

On Order



The girl who found the first sea reptile fossil

Mary Anning loved to scour the shores of Lyme Regis, England, where she was born in 1799, for stone sea lilies and shells. Her father had taught her how to use the tools with which she dug into the sand and scraped at the stones that fell from the cliffs. And he had taught her how to look, to look hard, for "curiosities."

One day, when she was eleven, Mary Anning spotted some markings on a wide, flat stone. She chipped at it with her hammer and chisel until the lines of a tooth emerged - and then those of another tooth. Weeks of persistent effort yielded a face about four feet long. But what creature was this? Her brother called it a sea dragon.

Many months later, Mary Anning still had not unearthed what she only then learned was called a fossil. But she found out that her discovery was precious and that the painstaking effort to uncover traces of ancient life was profoundly important. Jeannine Atkins's sensitive and engaging portrait is strikingly illustrated by Michael Dooling, whose powerful paintings capture young Mary Anning's devotion to her work, and all the joy she found in it.

Author Notes

Jeannine Atkins, a former high school English teacher, is the author of three other picture books, including A Name on the Quilt , illustrated by Tad Hills. Intrigued by the mix of legends and facts surrounding Mary Anning, the author visited Lyme Regis, and there conceived her interpretation of the events leading to Mary Anning's lifelong search for fossils. Jeannine Atkins lives with her family in Whately, Massachesetts.

Michael Dooling has illustrated numerous books for children. Among them are George Washington: A Picture Book Biography by James Cross Giblin and O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi and Other Stories . He lives in Audubon, New Jersey, with his wife, Jane, and her daughters, Rachel and Lisa.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ages 5^-9. Like Laurence Anholt's biography of fossil hunter Mary Anning, Stone Girl, Bone Girl [BKL F 1 99], this beautifully conceived book also whisks readers to another time and place. In the opening image, Mary is stuck inside entertaining her younger brothers with a shadow play when she'd rather be combing the beach for stone seal lilies and shells. She knows that "getting to the end of a story quicker wouldn't bring her mother home any sooner." That image and bit of text reveal essential elements of Anning's personality--patience and imagination. Dooling's moody, gray paintings of the English coast and village are full of shadowy shapes that Mary sees or imagines as she goes about with her hammer and chisel seeking treasures in the sand and stone. At one point, she chips away at what she thinks are teeth, eventually discovering a head in the stone. Months later she unearths the skeleton of an ichthyosaur, the first fossil of its kind ever found. In an afterword, the author explains more about Anning's accomplishments. --Shelley Townsend-Hudson

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 2-4-Two more picture-book biographies celebrate Mary Anning's bicentennial, recounting her childhood discovery of a complete ichthyosaur and noting her adult career as a self-taught paleontologist. Atkins follows the earlier lead of Catherine Brighton in The Fossil Girl (Millbrook, 1999) and Laurence Anholt in Stone Girl, Bone Girl (Orchard, 1999) as she focuses on the single year in which 11-year-old Anning slowly scraped the sand and stone of the Lyme Regis shore to uncover the huge reptile fossil. Her patience and persistence, are emphasized in a smoothly crafted narrative employing more fictionalized conversation and detail than any of the other books. Dooling's watercolors on textured paper employ a predominantly blue, gray, and brown palette conveying the loneliness of Anning's pursuit in this murky, seaside place. Like Brighton and Anholt, Atkins adds a final author's note commenting on Mary Anning's adult discoveries. Don Brown, in a smaller horizontal volume, omits such a note. His text quickly recounts Anning's childhood discovery of the ichthyosaur, and goes on to sketch a chronological account of the woman's entire life. The tan-and-blue watercolor scenes are less compelling than the bolder work in the other books, though several dramatic episodes punctuate the dangerous terrain in which Anning worked. The emphasis here is on the richness of spirit compensating for economic poverty. Both Stone Girl and Fossil Girl are more strongly realized and appealing works, but Sea Dragon reads well, and Rare Treasure is a competent simple biography. None of the writers reveal their actual sources of information on Anning's life. The tale of a child making such a distinctive discovery is inherently interesting, and the scientist's career is a worthwhile story, too. The array of books should attract a wide variety of readers and serve well in science classrooms.-Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.