Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker

booksLynn: When Smithsonian scientist Dr. Douglas Owsley asked Sally Walker if she would be interested in writing a children’s book about the colonial settlers of the Chesapeake, she jumped at the idea. The result is a completely fascinating book that introduces and explains the processes of forensic anthropology while also painting a vivid picture of what the lives of the Chesapeake colonists were actually like. Walker’s writing is as painstakingly accurate as the work of the scientists she chronicles, explaining their process step by step. All this meticulous scholarship could have been dry as the bones of the colonists but Written in Bone (Lerner, 2009) is as mesmerizing as a good mystery. Walker clearly loves her subject and her enthusiasm is contagious. Who were these people, how did they die and what were their lives like? There is a significant grossness factor too that is sure to enthrall kids. Headless skeletons, an arrowhead that had pierced a leg, evidence of arsenic poisoning – who could resist turning the pages to learn the answers to these puzzles? A wonderful bonus is that readers will learn a whole lot without even realizing they are acquiring knowledge. An unintended side effect may be that readers gain a whole new appreciation for dental care. Who knew that cavities could could be life-threatening?

Source notes, author notes and an extensive bibliography are included. Do not miss the fascinating companion website from the Smithsonian! The nonfiction for young people is AWESOME this year!

Cindy: The Sibert Informational Book Award Committee must have their hands full this year. And, what a year for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults to debut! There are many excellent titles at the uppper end of the audience range this year, and Walker’s book could be under consideration in both awards. I agree with Lynn that there might be appeal to some casual browsers due to the grossness factor, but those are going to be the ones who flip through and point at pictures and move on. The real audience for this book is the young reader who cares about the science and the history and the respect with which the skeletons are treated during the examinations. For those that do attend to the text, they are in for a treat. Walker explains the science so that I could understand it, no small feat. I was astounded again and again by what they could ascertain from looking at bones. There were a few cases where conjecture played a part, and Walker clearly notes this, but for the most part, the scientists fleshed out scientifically backed stories of lives of people who have been dead for centuries. That unmarked graves could result in plausibly named occupants mystifies me. And really, why does my dental hygeninist continue to nag me about flossing and my imminent periodontal disease? She’s been wasting her time. Every dental office should stock this book in the waiting room with a few carefully marked pages, and the problem will solve itself! Don’t believe me? Check out pages 65 and 97 to start!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

3 Comments on "Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker"

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  1. historyforchildren@gmail.com' Jill says:

    Thanks for suggesting this. I look forward to reading it. I am familiar with Sally Walker from one of her other titles: Fossil Fish Found Alive: Discovering the Coelacanth. The author has a gift for turning comprehensive information into a fascinating easy to digest story.

  2. twonickelsoradime@gmail.com' Laura says:

    I was looking at this at BEA – it looks amazing. Definitely looking forward to reading it when we get it in at the library.

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