Review: Barnum’s Bones by Tracey Fern

barnums bones

Barnum’s Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World by Tracey Fern, illustrated by Boris Kulikov

Barnum Brown was fascinated with fossils from the time he was a toddler following behind his father’s plow.  His collection got so large, it outgrew his bedroom and he was forced to move out to the laundry house with his finds.  In college, Barnum got to go on digs in the summers of 1894 and 1895 in South Dakota and Wyoming.  Barnum got a reputation for being a great bone hunter, collecting more than 1400 pounds of bones!  The American Museum of Natural History in New York City didn’t have a dinosaur on display, so they hired Barnum to do fossil digs for the museum.  Barnum continued to prove he could find bones, but he never found a new species, even though others were discovering them.  All that changed when he found a huge bone, discovering the first T. Rex.

This book is science and hard work made fascinating and cool.  I appreciated the fact that this is not just a book about Barnum’s great find, but also all of the determination and time that it took to make that find.  Readers travel along with Barnum through the heat and mosquitoes to find bones.  The amazing hauls that he made before finding T. Rex are mind-boggling.  The persona of Barnum is an interesting one too.  His dandy clothes, wearing a fur coat and nice shoes on digs makes for an even more fascinating scientist. 

Kulikov’s illustrations use glowing outlines of the dinosaurs being discussed to show readers the form of the dinosaur.  What could have been a frustrating part of the book becomes all the more intriguing and inviting.  His illustrations are playful, contrasting dusty old-fashioned colors with the bolder colors of the night sky and burning campfires. 

This is a book that will inspire children to search for their own fossils, whether they are as big as a T. Rex or not.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.