By Patricia Valdez
A recent trip to the Denver Zoo with my grandchildren produced an interesting result. My oldest granddaughter (age 3 ½) bypassed the monkeys, elephants and, to my horror (my fav) tigers- to fixate on the Komodo dragon in the reptile house! She even wanted to return there before we left the zoo. We bought her a stuffed toy Komodo dragon (glad they had that), and I went online to buy a suitable science book to follow up with.
I was also happy to come across this picture book based on a true story. Joan Proctor was born in 1897 and, as a child, became fascinated with reptiles. Being sickly and missing a lot of school allowed her time for self study and she quickly became an expert in this area. Eventually, she became the assistant to the curator of fish and reptiles at the National History Museum in London. Four years later, she became the curator distinguishing herself for her research and her ability to create lifelike habitats for the animals in her care. In 1923, she became curator of reptiles at the London Zoo.
Shortly after, Joan received the first two live Komodo dragons to reach Europe. Komodo dragons had only been discovered in 1910 and very little was known about them. Joan nursed Sumba and Sumbawa back to health after a rough journey. She created a suitable enclosure and did much to further scientific knowledge of the new species. Much gentler than their reputation, she was known for walking Sumbawa through the reptile house steering him with his tail.
The author has created a delightful tale about a little girl who pursued her passion and eventually contributed in her own special way. This is a book about following your interests and talents, especially motivating for little girls who are often easily molded on how to fit in and often lose their unique spark. So, this is a book for all the little Joans- whether they like lizards or not!
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