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Review of Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles
by Patricia Valdez; illus. by Felicita Sala
Primary    Knopf    40 pp.
3/18    978-0-399-55725-5    $17.99
Library ed.  978-0-399-55726-2    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-0-399-55727-9    $10.99

Joan Procter (1897–1931) was fascinated by reptiles and engaged with them as a herpetologist, researcher, and zoo-exhibit designer — but also on a personal level, forging connections with animals not generally seen as friendly to humans. In Valdez’s affirming picture-book biography, readers are immersed in Procter’s world, from her childhood bedroom (where she developed her obsession with lizards and her talents in observing and documenting their characteristics) to the museums and zoos of early-twentieth-century London (where the arrival of the first Komodo dragons from Indonesia caused a public and scholarly sensation). Valdez refers subtly throughout the book to the chronic illness that led to Procter’s death at thirty-four but mainly emphasizes all that Procter accomplished in her short life: important contributions to reptile taxonomy, the modern design of the Reptile House at the London Zoo, and fearless interactions with Sumbawa the Komodo dragon. Sala’s illustrations portray a stylish woman of the 1920s, with a long rope of pearls around her neck — and a variety of small lizards on her shoulders and wrists — communing with the creatures she loved. The final pages include photographs of Procter as a young girl and adult woman as well as more details about her remarkable life and about Komodo dragons. Appended with a substantial bibliography.

From the May/June 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Making a Difference.

Danielle J. Ford About Danielle J. Ford

Danielle J. Ford is a Horn Book reviewer and an associate professor of Science Education at the University of Delaware.

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