Review of Dinosaur Hunter: Joan Wiffen’s Awesome Fossil Discoveries – David Hill & Phoebe Morris

Posted: August 6, 2019 in children, nonfiction, picture book, Review
Tags: ,

Once there was a clever girl who liked searching for interesting things on the ground. She wanted to know why shells could be found in rocks so far away from the sea. But her father thought education was no use to a girl, so Joan had to leave school.

Many years later, she bought an old map. To her amazement, she saw that it marked a treasure hoard. Not of gold and jewels, but of dinosaur bones.

Nobody had ever found dinosaur fossils in New Zealand before – in fact, top scientists had said it was impossible. But Joan was intrigued. She decided to learn everything she could about palaeontology and hunt for these dinosaur fossils.

This is the fifth picture book in an acclaimed series of true stories about the lives of famous Kiwis written by David Hill and magnificently illustrated by Phoebe Morris.

Dinosaur Hunter: Joan Wiffen’s Awesome Fossil Discoveries

David Hill & Phoebe Morris

Picture Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

“I can dream.  That’s one of the big things in life.”  Joan Wiffen

Until the late 1960s scientists believed dinosaurs never lived in New Zealand.  Then a dinosaur skull was found in Australia in 1968 and the thinking changed.  Now scientists thought they could have lived in New Zealand but needed proof.

This book tells the story of how a farm wife from the Hawke’s Bay proved New Zealand once had its own dinosaurs and became an international expert in dinosaur fossils.

The clever drawings tell the story of how she became interested in geology and fossils, then how she discovered a map showing the remote Mangahouanga Stream as a possible location of bones  and decided to go digging.  After sending a plaster cast of her findings to an Australian museum, they confirmed it was the vertebrae of a 70 million year old theropod – a dinosaur the size of a truck with sharp, saw-edged teeth.

Joan Wiffen had made a ground-breaking discovery and re-wrote history.

The Wiffen’s and their helpers continued exploring the remote stream for the next thirty years and made more fossil discoveries.  Some of those dinosaurs are cleverly illustrated in the final pages, along with a handy timeline of Joan Wiffen’s life.

This book was interesting as I hadn’t really paid attention to prehistoric New Zealand.  I vaguely knew that fossils of giant penguins and sharks the length of cricket pitches had been found but not actual dinosaurs.  Joan Wiffen also seems an inspiring woman more attention should be paid to.

Any dinosaur fan will love this book.  As well as those who aren’t dinosaur fans but like interesting women.

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