Nonfiction Monday: Written in Bone by Sally M. Walker

factfirst1Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker. Carolrhoda Books, 2009.

As this book migrated around the house it garnered varying reactions from the urchins and other family members:

Karate Kid (12): It’s O.K. I liked the bones.

Z-baby (8): Is that a skeleton? Is it a real skeleton from a real person?

Artiste Daughter (20): That’s what I want to be, a forensic anthropologist. Can I read it when you get through with it?

Engineer Husband: That’s a great book! Where did it come from?

I found it a little difficult to concentrate on the information in the book at first, but I soon became intrigued. This book is not dumbed-down or over-simplified for the younger set. In fact, like much YA fiction, this book would be perfectly appropriate for adult reading. Anyone who wants a layman’s introduction to a particular subject should get in the habit of checking out the children’s or young adult section of the library since the authors of nonfiction for young people are careful to explain things as completely as possible while keeping it easy enough for nonprofessionals to understand and appreciate.

In Written in Bone, Ms. Walker accompanies forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley, a scientist at the Smithsonian Institution, at his invitation, as he and colleagues from several related disciplines study the remains of some of the Jamestown settlers and of other early colonials who lived in the Chesapeake region of Maryland. The stories of eight different inhabitants of early colonial America are told in nine chapters. The information about how archeology and anthropological studies are done is detailed, comprehensive, and interesting, and I understood most of it –a great accomplishment on the part of the author since my eyes usually glaze over at the mention of the word “science.” One technique that author uses to keep the pages turning is the end of the chapter (commercial break) teaser: “Inside the tent, Doug Owsley, Kari Bruwelheide, archeological conservators, and medical personnel analyzed and sampled the remains for further scientific analysis. What they found amazed and puzzled them.” I could just picture this book as a PBS special, a really good one.

The chapter titles are sure to intrigue readers, too:

1. A Grave Mystery
2. Who Were You?
3. Out of the Grave
4. The Captain
5. The Body in the Basement
6. The Luxury of Lead
7. THe Lead-Coffin People
8. Expect the Unexpected
9. Remember Me

You want to read chapter five first, don’t you?

Ms. Walker does use some imagination and historical documentation to fill in the possible details of the lives of the people whose skeletons were excavated. Those lives include colonials that scientists believe were a teenage boy killed in Jamestown in a skirmish with the Indians, a ship’s captain, an indentured servant, a colonial official, his first wife, and his sickly baby, and an African slave girl. It’s amazing how much scientists can discover about these people and their daily lives as they use all sorts of new technologies to uncover the skeletons’ secrets. I’m really a history buff, not a science fan, but I loved the way the science made the history come alive.

Finally, I can’t leave this book without mentioning the beautiful full color photographs that accompany the text on nearly every page. The photos are large enough to see details, and the page layout isn’t too busy with too many little pictures but rather just enough photographic evidence to illuminate the written content. I wish I could reproduce one or two of the photos here, but you’ll just have to get a copy of the book and see for yourself.

How’s that for a nonfiction teaser?

7 thoughts on “Nonfiction Monday: Written in Bone by Sally M. Walker

  1. This does sound fascinating, Sherry! I’ll admit that I don’t read enough nonfiction, so thanks for the reminder to check out the YA selections. (Come to think of it, I don’t know if my library even has a YA nonfiction section!)

    Anyway, I wanted to mention, too, that you’ve gotten me hooked on another challenge!

  2. This book definitely sounds like something I would enjoy. Thanks for the review!

  3. We caught the exhibit at the Smithsonian while in DC and it was wonderful. I didn’t know there was also a book. Thanks!

  4. I found you through BBAW…and wanted to let you know that I’ve subscribed…

    This book sounds really interesting….gonna have to look it up 😉

    Marta’s Meanderings

  5. Dear People,
    Sally M. Walker came to visit our school, if you’ve read this book the title and font and shades of, “Written In Bones” Is the shade of a skeleton in the book. Yes, they used Salt, Viniger, and Tabacco Plants to create toothpaste. Someone rubbed their gum off using it. Sally M. Walker Is Awesome

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