Sheila Cole

The Dragon In the Cliff: A Novel Based on the Life of Mary Anning

I scraped off the wet clay with mounting excitement. There was no mistaking what I saw. I whirled about madly until I fell down on the sand with giddiness. I had found it!

What Mary Anning had found in the Dorset cliffs that day in 1811 when she was only thirteen years old was the first complete ichthyosaur skeleton. Mary Anning was a real person but little is known about the girl who made this remarkable discovery. Because of this lack of information, Sheila Cole decided that the truest way to tell her story was through fiction.

A poor British girl, Mary Anning discovered some of the first dinosaur-like fossils ever uncovered. She learned how to hunt for fossils from her father. After he died when she was eleven years old, selling the fossils was the only way Mary could help support her family. Hunting fossils was not considered a proper occupation for a girl in a small English town in the early 1800s. Nevertheless Mary persisted to become one of the leading field researchers of her day.

“Cole does a wonderful job of describing Anning’s struggles to overcome the biases of the time, the English town in which she lived and its prejudices….Her novel is entirely believable, and her sensitivity to Anning’s plight can’t help but remind readers that it wasn’t so long ago that women had little say as to the direction of their own lives. Children will identify with Anning’s struggles with friends, family and the ever-present poverty….Cole refuses to write down to her audience, or to simplify history.”
--Catherine A. Camper for School Library Journal.


Anna K. Behrensmeyer, writing in Science magazine, maintained that “Cole gives her readers a lasting image of how intelligence, necessity, and determination combined to shape Mary Anning’s life and give her a significant place in the history of paleontology.”

“...A vividly personal narration of Mary’s triumphs and setbacks. The attitudes of the time, Mary’s occasional despair over her choices, and the beaches she combed are all meticulously evoked.”
--Kirkus

Selected Works

"An exceptional job of showing readers what life was like for children in times past." School Library Journal
“Solid, truthful writing about a teenager wrestling with the greatest of dilemmas”
-Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
A portrait of a Mary Anning, who in 1811, when she was only 13 years old, discovered the first complete fossil of an ichthyosaur.
Lisa learns that meaning well is not enough. It's the doing that counts. "A common peer group situation...dealt with bluntly and convincingly." Booklist
Eleven-year-old Zachary tries to stop the development of the local canyon he loves.