Book Review: Remarkable Creatures

Remarkable Creatures
By Tracy Chevalier
Harpers Collins Publishers Ltd, 2009

I sought this book out after reading Stone Girl, Bone Girl by Laurence Anholt to my 4-year-old daughter. I wanted to know more about this Mary Anning person, but as I take my history first in the form of fiction, I started with Tracy Chevalier. If you read this book, keep in mind that it’s a novel, not a true biography. Chevalier compresses the facts of Mary Anning’s life to fit the needs of the story, but it is exceptionally well-written, and will give you a better sense of the cultural forces working against Mary.

I also love the device of having characters described in terms of the features which lead them. For example, from pp 7-8:

I have long noted that people tend to lead with one particular feature, a part of the face or body. My brother, John, for instance leads with his eyebrows. It is not just that they form prominent tufts above his eyes, but they are the part of his face that moves the most, tracing the course of his thoughts as his brow furrows and clears. … My youngest sister, Margaret, leads with her hands. … She is given to waving her hands about as she dances, and when she sleeps she throws her arms above her head, even when the room is cold. Frances has been the only Philpot sister to marry, and leads with her bosom–which I suppose explains that.

And now it’s your turn. What are you reading this week?


About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book will focus on science, and how parents without a science degree can answer their curious child's questions without enrolling in a college level refresher course. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Eleven-Year-Old at, chatting about books and the writing life at, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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