Mary Anning, the palaeontologist at the heart of Ammonite, is known as Britain’s unsung hero of fossil discovery. The collector made dozens of incredible finds in Lyme Regis, part of Dorset’s Jurrasic Coast, over years of research. Her discoveries were unprecedented but due to her gender, she failed to gain the recognition she deserved. Not only is her story being made into a Hollywood film, but also a book so children can learn more about her work.
Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, the author of the Little People, Big Dreams book series, has focused on the life of Mary Anning at the same time as a biopic of her life, Ammonite is released on digital platforms.
According to Isabel, one of her particular discoveries was instrumental in changing how we view the Jurassic period and even meant a whole new creature was discovered.
When she was just 12, she discovered a strange-looking fossilised skull – and painstakingly dug out the outline of its 5.2-metre skeleton.
The mammoth creature was studied for years and experts eventually named it to be an Ichthyosaurus, or ‘fish lizard’.
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According to Isabel, her achievement was made even more incredible given she had very limited education due to her gender and social standing.
She added: “Little People, Big Dreams is all about children believing they can be whoever they want to be when they grow up, no matter their circumstances.
“Mary Anning was female, poor and had to teach herself to read, but she still managed to achieve incredible things…
“She became a pioneer in palaeontology but she wasn’t given any credit.
“She wasn’t even allowed to be a part of the scientific societies of the time because she was a woman.”
One aspect of the new film, Ammonite, has proved controversial as it depicts a romantic relationship with friend Charlotte Murchison.
However, a family member has said she does “not believe there is any evidence to back up portraying her as a gay woman… I believe Mary Anning was abused because she was poor, uneducated and a woman. Is that not enough?”
Following the reports, director Francis Lee tweeted he thought it was appropriate “after seeing queer history be routinely ‘straightened’ throughout culture”.
For Isabel, Mary is an inspiration to many. She said: “Very little is known about Mary Anning’s private life. There isn’t any evidence to suggest she was gay, as far as I know, but there isn’t any evidence to say she was straight either. Whatever her sexuality, she is a champion.”
Isabel’s brightly coloured range of illustrated biographies for children also includes books about David Bowie, Frida Kahlo and Rosa Parks.
She’s even penned a book about RuPaul’s Drag Race host RuPaul Charles, which she says she hopes will “break stereotypes” about young boys.
She said: “I feel Little People, Big Dreams really breaks with stereotypes. We started breaking stereotypes for women but actually boys have kind of the same problem.
“They are supposed to play football, they are supposed to like fighting and all these things that not all of them like.”
Ammonite is available on premium digital download now, while the Little People, Big Dreams book series is also available in all good booksellers