Inspired by the 19th-century lives of artist and scientist Charles Willson Peale's family, this is a tale of a girl and her favorite companion--a fossilized mastodon!
Sybilla Peale lives in an unconventional home: one of the first natural history museums in America. Her family shares their space with all sorts of intriguing flora and fauna collected from around the world, but young Sybilla is most taken with an enormous mastodon skeleton that her father unearthed on a recent expedition. When her older brother, Rembrandt, announces his plan to take the mastodon to London, she is heartbroken, but when he relents, her elation dissolves in the face of his disappointment, and she gives the trip her blessing. It’s a sweet and remarkable story, with Marinoni’s exquisite illustrations inviting the reader directly into the Peales’ museum-home, a world of taxidermic animals and towering skeletons. Some of the images spill off the page into the white space of the facing page, giving an air of unrestrained splendor. The book concludes with a satisfying author’s note, revealing that much of the story is based on actual Peale family exploits, which may send readers to look further into their extraordinary lives.
–Emily Graham, Booklist , 3/1/2020
Charles Willson Peale was an important 18th-century portraitist and also the proprietor of America’s first natural history museum, in Philadelphia. Lowell imagines a voice for Peale’s young daughter Sybilla, who helps her father and brothers as they reassemble a mastodon skeleton for display. “My favorite place is beneath his bones,” she says, as Italian artist Marinoni paints her taking tea with a doll underneath it. When a request comes to put the mastodon on temporary exhibit in London, Sybilla rebels. Her father and older brother Rembrandt acquiesce; their gentle approach allows Sybilla to reconsider. She consults the mastodon. “My mastodon says yes, in his own quiet way.” Architecturally detailed, theatrically lit illustrations by Marinoni set the swoops and curves of fossilized mastodon against period dress and household furnishings. Nurtured by intelligent, eccentric family members and permitted familiarity with priceless scientific curiosities, Sybilla has an ideal Enlightenment-era childhood. An author’s note provides historical context. Ages 8-up.
–Publishers Weekly , 2/26/2020
Crisis looms when young Sybilla Peale learns that big brother Rembrandt is taking a beloved fossil for a tour of England. Sybilla is accustomed to living among the wildlife exhibits (“They are very well behaved. They’re stuffed.”) that fill the natural history museum set up in their home by Rembrandt and their father, Charles Willson Peale. She is understandably infuriated at the news that the “magnificent!” fossil skeleton beneath which she holds her doll tea parties will be leaving. Her rebellion melts away, though, when Rembrandt actually bows to her wishes. “Even if he is bossy, he is my brother,” she reflects, and rather than force him to leave the mastodon behind she lets the bones themselves decide. Marinoni illustrates the fictional episode in the life of the multitalented Peales with painterly views of a small, blonde spark plug confidently at home amid her all-white clan, exactly rendered early-American art and furnishings … not to mention all sorts of birds, insects, fossils, and other specimens. The scale of the mastodon skeleton relative to Sybilla is jaw-dropping, emphasized in image after image. Occasional outbreaks of elegantly set italics add an appropriately antique flavor to Sybilla’s narrative, and the author adds a pair of well-chosen period illustrations to an admiring explanatory afterword. Accomplished illustrations further elevate this engaging introduction to America’s first family of science.
–Kirkus (Starred Review), 2/1/2020