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Dinosaur Hunter by David Hill


The remarkable true story of science superstar Joan Wiffen, whose fossil discoveries proved that dinosaurs lived in Aotearoa, has been brought to life in this new picture book.


In 1972, nobody had ever found dinosaur fossils in New Zealand. In fact, top scientists said it was impossible. But when Joan Wiffen found an old survey map marking possible dinosaur bones, she was intrigued. So she decided to hunt for them.


This is the picture book story of a little-known Kiwi woman who, with no formal schooling, taught herself palaeontology and excavated numerous fossils from a Hawke’s Bay stream. Eventually awarded an honorary doctorate from Massry University, among other honours, this real-life dinosaur hunter will inspire our younger generations.


Dinosaur Hunter is the fifth book in a fantastic series about the lives of famous New Zealanders. Written by David Hill, the series also covers the lives of Sir Edmund Hillary, Burt Munro, Jean Batten and Sir Peter Blake.


Hill succinctly tells the story of Wiffen – from her birth right through to her death in 2009. Her trials and tribulations, successes and sheer determination are recounted to encourage our younger Kiwis that you are never too old to dream. Hill also expertly weaves information into the book in a subtle way. Fossil formation is covered, as is basic palaeontology skills, but it is woven into the fabric of the story so readers learn without realising they are learning. It is a skill Hill is well known for, and one he absolutely masters yet again.


Illustrator Phoebe Morris has once again paired up with Hill to create stunning artworks. They are fun, bright and bold, with plenty of detail to pore over. Each human and animal in the book oozes personality - Wiffen’s dog is a delight. With dinosaurs carefully hidden throughout the book, it demands multiple readings. For young dinosaur fanatics, each dinosaur is instantly recognisable and accurately drawn, and the endpapers of the book are subtle yet superb.


A timeline at the end of the book provides a succinct timeline of not only Wiffen’s life, but over New Zealand’s palaeontological history.


However, this is not just a book for little dinosaur lovers. It is a history book, a biography, a textbook, and an inspirational read about a woman scientist all in one.

Dinosaur Hunter is another stellar collaboration between Hill and Morris. Together they bring to life the stories of famous New Zealanders, inspiring the next generation to dream big. Long may this partnership continue.


Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser

Penguin Random House, RRP $25.

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