________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 23. . . February 24, 2017


Mary Anning's Curiosity.

Monica Kulling. Illustrated by Melissa Castrillón.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books, 2017.
116 pp., hardcover, epub & kindle, $14.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55498-898-3 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-899-0 (epub), ISBN 978-1-55498-900-3 (kindle).

Subject Heading:
Anning, Mary, 1799-1847-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Allison Giggey.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



It was exhilarating trying to outrace the sea. Mary fixed her eyes on the footpath and pumped her legs as hard as she could. Pa was wading in now, as far as he dared, since he could not swim either, to meet her.

Breakers rolled in swiftly. Suddenly, a huge wave pushed Mary under. Seawater filled her nose and ears as she desperately struggled to come up for air and to hold on to her sack. The churning water was pulling her out to sea!

Suddenly, Pa’s strong arms scooped Mary up and carried her to the footpath. He didn’t let her down until they were both safely on the cliff top. High tide surged in and smashed at the cliffs. Mary felt the sea spray on her face.

“I thought you weren’t going to make it,” said Joe, near tears.


Mary Anning and her family have an unusual way of making ends meet; she, her father, and her brother spend their time combing the beaches for “curiosities” – fossils that wash up on the beach after storms. When an injury prevents Mary’s father from continuing, the young heroine of this simple but efficient novel steps up and takes over in order to help support her family.

     Mary Anning’s Curiosity would be an excellent novel to add to a Language Arts/Social Studies/Science integrated curriculum as it touches on all three areas. One element that would be appealing to teachers is the constant use of foreshadowing. What may come off as obvious to a seasoned reader may be just subtle enough to give beginning readers a very satisfying “Aha!” moment, encouraging them to make inferences as they move through the novel. For example, shortly before Mary’s father has his accident, there is a conversation about whether or not the cliffs are safe. Later, Kulling hints at the possibility that Mary’s discovery is going to be stolen from her, and so, as readers move through the chapters, there is a heightened tension as they wait to see what’s coming.

     Overall, the language in Mary Anning’s Curiosity is interesting and effective. There are some word choices that would challenge young readers. For example, regional dialect like “summat” (in place of “something”) pops up periodically. The word choice is clearly deliberate; the double meaning of ‘curiosity’ in the title was particularly pleasing. That said, the scientific vocabulary could prove to be a hang up for some. While the author’s note at the end did explain some of the terminology used, this is definitely a novel that would benefit from either a glossary or some vocabulary related footnotes.

     One of the most frustrating things in Mary Anning’s Curiosity was that I found myself wanting more, constantly: more of Melissa Castrillón’s illustrations; more interaction with Elizabeth Philpot; and more backstory for the Captain what is he the captain of, and why the sudden change from almost villain to nice guy? While the length of the book is suitable for the intended audience, there are some questions that ought to have been answered.

     Overall, Mary Anning’s Curiosity was a simple, enjoyable read, and it would be a good way to introduce young readers to the genre of historical fiction.


Allison Giggey is a teacher librarian at an intermediate school in Prince Edward Island.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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