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BONE DETECTIVE: The Story of Forensic Anthropologist Diane France

Diane France is one of only 118 active, certified forensic anthropologists on this planet! (She's #41.)

The forensic part of her title means that she's an expert on analyzing evidence in an investigation—a crime, a disaster, an accident. As a physical anthropologist, she analyzes bone evidence—skeletal remains—to determine age, sex, height, cause of death, and other important clues.

This fascinating and exciting career has taken Diane around the world and back in time on many science adventures:

    • to Siberia, Russia to "meet" the skeletons of the royal Romanov family, murdered in 1918 by communist revolutionaries


    • to the American Civil War to make casts of the bones of the "Hunley boys," the first submarine crew to successfully sink an enemy ship in wartime, only to drown shortly afterward


    • to the Wild West to cast the skull of outlaw Jesse James—or so people claim


    • to New York City after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to help collect evidence from "Ground Zero"—the World Trade Center site


    • to other plane crashes, fires, and disasters—often at a moment's notice—as part of an emergency rescue and recovery team called DMORT.

      UPDATE: In 2016, Diane got a call from the Art Student's League of New York. She says: "It's an amazing, amazing place - kids have free range to do whatever they please - painting, sculpture, etching, welding. Mrs. Hicks, an artist, attended the school in the 1940s and loved the place so much that she wanted to return as a skeleton."

      So that's what Diane did; she prepared Mrs. Hicks' skeleton for display.

This biography for tweens and early teens is part of the 10-book Women's Adventures in Science series by the National Academy of Sciences.

I'm honored to receive an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children award, Selector's Choice (highly recommended), from the NSTA/Children's Book Council and for the book to be nominated as a 2007 finalist in the young adult category of the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books.


The 10-volume Women's Adventures in Science series . . . should be on every middle and high school librarian’s "must buy" list for 2007. The books are, first of all, beautiful. Each is filled with photographs, sidebars, glossaries, timelines, maps, and other graphics that provide key information about the field of science within which each woman has excelled. . . .

Once inside, the true power of the Women’s Adventures Series is revealed as eight talented authors weave the very personal story of their journey from girl to scientist. The books begin with an overview chapter of the life and career of the scientist profiled, and then they move into a kind of flashback to her earliest years. The emphasis on adventure will appeal to a wider variety of young women than most biographies.

Fifth-grade students with whom I shared these books loved looking at the photos of the scientists as girls and young women and reading about how their early interests, successes, and setbacks affected their choices in later life. Girls also strongly connected with the emotion in the stories. When asked what the coolest thing about the book was, one student said, “It told how she felt about a lot of things"; another commented that the scientist and author “told it how it really was.” This emotional content ranges from academic and professional achievements or failures, to family joys and sadness, and it does much to help girls see these scientists as both passionate professionals and daughters, wives, and mothers. . .

Late middle school and early high school students will make important connections from their own current coursework to college and career. . . The girls in my room buzzed about the books from the moment they chose them, and the books passed from hand-to-hand as they were finished. . . .

Let me offer these words written by an eighth-grade student. After reading four of the books, she wrote that they were “motivating and inspirational. They show that smart and successful women can be famous for their achievements in science and math, and that women are not only famous for being celebrities. These books inspire young women to work hard, go to college, and go into a career that you are passionate about.” I couldn’t have said it any better!


I started to skim through these fascinating volumes before writing my review and ended up reading them from cover to cover. What makes these biographies unique is the fact that they are written about modern-day working scientists who collaborated with the authors while the series was being written. Along with the illustrations, fact boxes and sidebars are included, which make this set very user friendly and a welcome addition to a school library's collection. . . . Recommended.


The goal of the series can be summed up in one sentence from the series preface: “The challenges of a scientific career are great but the rewards can be even greater.”

The obvious use for these books are for students doing research on either specific areas of science or for those researching one of the women featured in the series. They could also be used, however, as motivation and inspiration to young women looking to go into the scientific field. This set is recommended for middle and high school libraries.