Dinosaur bones, skulls, and fossilized poop – topics that are sure to attract the attention of young readers. Linda Skeers brings them all together in her picture book biography, Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist. Anning was a fearless, determined explorer and she made many important discoveries. She was only 12 years old when she uncovered the bones of a dinosaur, something that had never been seen before. At a time when people believed women couldn’t be scientists, Anning forged ahead, helping to create a new field of discovery called paleontology. Linda tells Anning’s story in the lively, narrative style that is her trademark. Illustrations by Marta Álvarez Miguéns blend well with the text.
Dinosaur Lady is Linda’s second book for Sourcebooks. Her first was the very successful collective biography, Women Who Dared. I wanted to know more about how Dinosaur Lady came about and what Linda found fascinating about Mary Anning. So, I asked.
Can you give us some background about “Dinosaur Lady?” How did it all come about?
I’ve always been fascinated by Mary Anning and wrote a profile of her for my book WOMEN WHO DARED. When my editor asked if I’d be interested in writing a PB Bio about her for a younger audience I didn’t hesitate!
What did you find most interesting or surprising in researching and writing about Mary Anning?
What amazes me the most about her is that she didn’t let anything stand in her way in her search for answers! At that time many textbooks about geology and fossils were written in French. So, she taught herself to read French! She searched for over a YEAR to find the fossilized body after her and her brother discovered the skull. She ignored the danger and the ridicule of male scientists and just kept searching and learning and sharing her discoveries with the world.
With picture books, limited word counts are always a challenge. How long was your first draft and how did you cut it down to size?
Well, my editor wanted me to aim for 750 words. My first draft was twice that! I decided to focus on the two things I admired most about her – her fearlessness and her never-ending search for knowledge. No matter what obstacles she faced, she continued to explore, discover, and study fossils. She almost died in a landslide – yet headed right back to the cliffs to keep exploring!
One thing I love about your writing is that it always has such energy, which makes your nonfiction fun to read. Could you share a couple of tips about how you make the writing lively?
Thanks! I try and use action verbs whenever I can – I want readers to feel like they are right there with Mary as she scrambles over the cliffs! I also try to write scenes – I picture in my head what’s happening, and what the illustrations will show and then try to describe it. When I revise, I look at each paragraph to see if there’s action, suspense, a surprise – I want the story to be fast-paced. I also love using sentence fragments!
What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
Probably the best writing advice I’ve been given is just to keep at it. Keep working on your craft. Keep reading. And most importantly, just keep writing!
The other thing that helped me was the advice to write about what interests YOU. If you’re passionate about a subject, that’s reflected in your writing. I hear the word “authenticity” a lot. Don’t write to a trend or what you think will be popular – write about what touches your heart or topics you want to know more about. That way, the research and writing process is fun and exciting! (Remind me I said that next time I’m whining about a horrible first draft!)
CONNECT WITH LINDA:
You can learn more about Linda on her website at http://www.lindaskeers.com.