Barnum’s Bones

Book Reviews

Fern, Tracey Barnum’s Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World; illus. by Boris Kulikov. Ferguson/Farrar, 2012 [40p]
ISBN 978-0-374-30516-1 $17.99

Reviewed from galleys R 7-9 yrs

Should Gallup choose to poll primary schoolers on their favorite dinosaur, bet your last dollar on the winner being Tyrannosaurus rex. Why, then, has its discoverer, Barnum Brown, not enjoyed more fame among legions of dino fans? Fern redresses this oversight with an appealing picture-book account of the dapper Mr. Brown (who often went digging in his suit) from his early years annoying his mother with his crates of specimens (Mom banished them to the laundry house) to his career prospecting for bones for Professor Henry Osborn of New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Brown became known both for the sheer quantity of bones he bagged and for the novelty of his discoveries, particularly enough T. rex parts to reconstruct most of a complete skeleton. Kulikov’s take on Brown’s exploits is playful and imaginative, catching Brown from tipsy perspectives as he dashes across continents with bones precariously in tow, and is roundly acclaimed by bug-eyed, gape-mouthed admirers, human and equine. A double-page spread of T. rex on museum display shows the bones positioned in a horizontal stance that was not understood during Brown’s time—a glitch that can be pleasantly addressed by pairing this title with Kathleen Kudlinski’s Boy, Were We Wrong about Dinosaurs! (BCCB 1/06) An author’s note and selected bibliography are included.  EB

Barnum’s Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World.
Fern, Tracey (author).  Illustrated by Boris Kulikov.
May 2012. 40p. Farrar/Margaret Ferguson, hardcover, $17.99 (9780374305161). Grades 1-4. 560.92.

REVIEW.  First published June 1, 2012 (Booklist).

On February 12, 1873, Barnum was born. No, not that Barnum—Barnum Brown. His parents hoped his “important-sounding” name would lead him to do important things, and it didn’t take long for their wish to come true. As soon as Barnum could toddle, he collected fossils—so many that they overflowed the house. Years later, when he heard about dinosaur fossils unearthed out west, he wanted in on the action. Barnum often went prospecting in “a fur coat, suit and tie, buffed black boots, and a bowler hat,” and he found bones—lots of them—but wasn’t satisfied. A professor at New York’s Museum of Natural History hired Barnum, believing “he must be able to smell fossils,” and sent him on collection trips. But Barnum’s big find would come in the early 1900s with the discovery of bone fragments from a new species, which Barnum named Tyrannosaurus rex, or his “favorite child.” After Barnum later unearthed a perfect T. rex skull, an entire skeleton was pieced together by 1915, drawing millions of visitors. Fern (Buffalo Music, 2008) writes in language brimming with personality and vividly captures the scientist’s over-the-top personality, while Kulikov’s intricate renderings of dinosaur bones are truly breathtaking. This will captivate the masses of kids whose jaws drop in the presence of hulking fossils. An author’s note concludes. — Ann Kelley

Horn Book Magazine:
Barnum’s Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World
by Tracey Fern; illus. by Boris Kulikov
Primary Ferguson/Farrar 40 pp.
5/12 978-0-374-30516-1 $17.99 g
At and around the turn of the last century, an eccentric dinosaur hunter dedicated himself to the  discovery of a new species, and amassed along the way a peerless collection of fossilized skeletons for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Barnum Brown develops his zeal for bone hunting early, following behind his father’s plow to gather unearthed fossils. He trains as a paleontologist and travels the American West, digging for a new discovery, often dressed to the nines in fur coat and bowler hat. Years of hunting produce a partial skeleton of an unknown carnivorous giant, and years more completed it: at last Tyrannosaurus rex is discovered. Fern’s colorful narrative fairly bubbles with Barnum’s irrepressible fervor as he battles everything from mosquitoes to Andrew  Carnegie to establish his legacy. Kulikov’s bright, saturated paintings with unusual perspectives and evocative use of light and shadow bring the landscapes of the cultured city and Wild West to vivid life. Clever illustrative details—imagined dinosaur silhouettes, capricious dinosaur expressions, abundant bits of torn maps—add a level of fun all their own, reflecting Barnum’s indefatigable enthusiasm. An author’s note and selected bibliography round out this informative, inspirational story of one man’s curious, undeniable passion. THOM BARTHELMESS

Reprinted from The Horn Book Magazine [or Guide, as applicable] by permission of The Horn Book, Inc.,

School Library Journal:
 FERN, Tracey. Barnum’s Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World. illus. by Boris Kulikov. 40p. bibliog. photos. CIP. Farrar/Margaret Ferguson. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-374-30516-1. LC 2010048846.

K-Gr 4–Barnum Brown had a nose for fossils, trudging along behind his father as he plowed his Kansas fields, picking up ancient clams and corals. And that nose, according to Fern’s chatty, readable text, led to a lifetime of work for the American Museum of Natural History in New York (originally under the guidance of Henry Fairfield Osborn). A brief glimpse at Brown’s early years leads to his expeditions to Patagonia and the American West, and the discovery of his most exciting find–Tyrannosaurus rex. Kulikov’s cartoon illustrations splash across the spreads, their golds, browns, oranges (and an occasional bright blue) forming a perfect backdrop for the text, and for a scattering of correspondence between Brown and Osborn tucked into the endpapers (“Please…send me 1/2 doz. short, heavy chisels….”). An extensive author’s note provides further biographical detail about this productive paleontologist. This book is simpler than Deborah Kogan Ray’s stellar Dinosaur Mountain: Digging into the Jurassic Age (Farrar, 2010), which has a similar format, and is on a par with David Sheldon’s handsome Barnum Brown: Dinosaur Hunter (Walker, 2006). T. rex lovers will gobble it up, and seekers of easy biographies will be hot on their heels.–Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY


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