Books

Cedar Rapids author's new picture book shines spotlight on 'Dinosaur Lady' of the 1820s

Research on Mary Anning led to new children's biography book, #x201c;Dinosaur Lady,#x201d; by Cedar Rapids author Linda
Research on Mary Anning led to new children’s biography book, “Dinosaur Lady,” by Cedar Rapids author Linda Skeers.
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Mary Anning made one of the most fascinating discoveries of her life — a discovery that changed science as we know it — when she was just a young girl.

Now, thanks to local children’s book author Linda Skeers, kids can learn more about the fascinating life of Anning, who earned the title of “Dinosaur Lady” for her daring discoveries in the 1820s, which became the foundation for paleontology as we know it.

Just as Anning pieced together fossils, Skeers pieced together Anning’s story for kids to read, learn about and enjoy.

“Mary’s contributions to science — at a time when women were not encouraged to explore, study and pursue knowledge — were remarkable,” said the Cedar Rapids author. “She wanted answers about the world around her and decided to do whatever it took, no matter what others had to say about her unconventional lifestyle.”

Skeers said she hopes the story inspires readers to pursue their passions and not be concerned about what others think or say about them.

Skeers first wrote about Mary Anning in a short profile in her book “Women Who Dared: 52 Stories of Fearless Daredevils, Adventurers, and Rebels,” published in 2017. But she said she started the research process about Anning from square one for this book.

“I read books about her, paleontology, geology, England in the 1800s, anything that might connect to her and give me more insights into what life would have been like for a fearless, ambitious woman at that time.”

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Delving deep into Mary Anning’s life and discovering her accomplishments was Skeers’ favorite part of the book creation process.

“She wanted to learn about geology, but many textbooks were written in French. So, she taught herself to read French,” said Skeers, who sprinkled these tidbits throughout the story. “Without any formal training, she was able to produce intricate and scientifically accurate drawings and sketches of fossils and dinosaur bones. She could painstakingly reassemble a pile of bones back into a creature nobody had ever seen by studying each and every bone and relying on her own notes and drawings.”

“My main objective was to show just how brave and curious she was — she risked her life on more than one occasion because she demanded answers to questions she had about the fossils,” added Skeers, noting that since it was a picture book for young reader she couldn’t help but mention fossilized dinosaur poop. “Mary never stopped exploring, studying, learning and sharing her knowledge with others throughout her lifetime.”

Skeers said scenes that spoke to those personality traits went in the main text — other interesting tidbits went in the back matter.

“I wanted to say so much about her but had a limited word count since this was aimed for younger children,” she said. “The first several drafts were way too long. I find everything about her fascinating, so it was tough to choose what facts to include, what to move to back matter and what to leave out.”

The illustrations bring the story to life. Skeers said she was thrilled with them.

“Marta (Alvarez Miguens) perfectly captured Mary’s spirit and curiosity and the gorgeous color palette made me swoon,” she said.

Skeers noted that Alvarez Miguens lives in Spain, and on a recent email exchange with her they discovered they both put in a lot of research about fossils, Lyme Regis in England and the time period to bring the story to life.

“We’re both excited to share Mary’s story with children,” Skeers said.

“Dinosaur Lady” hit bookshelves earlier this month. And while Skeers is not doing any in person events as she usually would for a book launch thanks to the pandemic, she is excited for readers to learn more about Anning and all she accomplished.

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“I do hope “Dinosaur Lady” finds its way into the hands of curious kids,” she said.

And she hopes more books like “Dinosaur Lady” follow.

“Mary Anning is just one of many women from history that are finally getting the attention and admiration they deserve,” Skeers said. “We need more books about amazing people that have been overlooked by history books — there are wonderful stories out there that will inspire and delight children.”

“Dinosaur Lady” is available through local independent bookstores, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. To find out more about the author, visit lindaskeers.com.

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