With his bad foot, Dad found carrying hard. He spent much of his time standing still at the benches in the greenhouses, planting and dividing his dahlia plants. He even talked to them. As if the plants were babies in the nursery. Bill supposed that was why the job was called being a ‘nurseryman’. Dad sometimes sang while he worked. I wish I could be a gardener like Dad, thought Bill, except maybe one who travels to collect new plants from foreign places.
(The Great Sea Dragon Discovery by Pippa Goodhart. PP. 18 – 19.)
Bill’s Mum is unwell but all she wants in the world is for Bill to stay in school. Bill would rather be outside working with plants like his Dad. When one of Bill’s tricks causes Dad to lose his job, Bill reckons it is up to him to provide for the family.
He takes a job at the coprolite diggings and it is there he learns about fossils, and the money people will pay for them. Then Bill makes a discovery – a huge sea dragon buried beneath the earth for millions of years. Could this be the answer to Bill’s problems?
A coming-of-age story about a boy desperate to prove himself and find his own place in the world. Bill has a lot on his mind. He doesn’t want to become a banker or a clerk but he wants to please his mother. His estranged family has returned to town which upsets Bill’s mother. Dad isn’t able to find another job and Bill just wants to be a good son and find an occupation which suits him. I loved Bill as a character. So many readers will relate to his frustration and his curiosity.
This is a wonderful time-setting. The story of Mary Anning has gained more coverage in recent years and is often studied by children in primary school. I’ve always thought it is a story which makes people curious about the past. It is about a person with no special education, who had an instinctive understanding of one particular field. I like how Bill’s story has echoes of Anning’s but is a new and fictional account of the era.
The discovery of fossils challenged many religious beliefs about creation and this is explored in the story. People were forced to reevaluate their beliefs in light of the discovery, and this proves too much for some of the characters. This would make an interesting discussion point about religion – can we reshape our beliefs in light of new knowledge and still believe in God? Is it up to an organised body to decide the truth? Although this book is aimed at middle-grade readers, it would make a wonderful introduction to these discussions with teenagers and young adults.
Bill uncovers more than one secret and I love how all the strands come together. Saying more would risk spoilers but the ending was touching and enabled the reader to empathise with more than one character.
A historical middle-grade title which explores the concerns of one era with the hindsight of the modern-day. The specific focus on fossil-discovery was fascinating and I would love to read more historical fiction which looks at scientific discovery and debate.
The Great Sea Dragon Discovery by Pippa Goodhart out now in paperback (£6.99, Catnip)
Thanks to Laura Smythe PR and Catnip Books for my copy of The Great Sea Dragon Discovery. Opinions my own.