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In enchanting picture book ‘When Sue Found Sue,’ T. rex takes a back seat to its discoverer

As Smithsonian debuts a dinosaur, young readers get to learn about Sue Hendrickson, who found Field Museum’s star attraction.

Sue Hendrickson in May 2000 at the unveiling of the Tyranosaurus rex skeleton “Sue” that Hendrickson discovered and which bears her name at the Field Museum of Natural History.
Sue Hendrickson in May 2000 at the unveiling of the Tyranosaurus rex skeleton “Sue” that Hendrickson discovered and which bears her name at the Field Museum of Natural History.
Getty Images

From “Sue” to the latest big dinosaur discovery, it’s a great time for Tyrannosaurus rex.

In Washington, the fossilized bones of the “Wankel T. rex” — the latest and one of the most complete skeletons of the fierce meat-eating dinosaurs to be unearthed — are being unveiled this weekend as the centerpiece of the newly renovated fossil hall at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

One day, it might one day be the most-visited T. rex of them all. It has a good story, too — spotted on a family camping trip in Montana over Labor Day in 1988 by an amateur fossil hunter named Kathy Wankel who noticed a bone poking out of the ground. It was a bit of T. rex shoulder blade. After years of work, the world finally gets to see it.

As good as the Wankel T. rex’s story is, it’s hard to top the tale of Chicago’s own Sue, the stalwart of the Field Museum of Natural History.

And now the already much-told tale of Sue and its namesake discoverer Sue Hendrickson has been engagingly retold in “When Sue Found Sue” (Abrams, $17.99), a picture book by Caldecott Honor-winning Toni Buzzeo and Chicago illustrator Diana Sudyka, who volunteers at the Field Museum and also has done posters for musicians including St. Vincent.

Buzzeo and Sudyka have produced a picture book that will have little ones snuggling closer to see the pages being read to them and will also provide beginning readers enough of a draw, with its lilting words and lovely illustrations, to bring them back again and again.

The book opens with a quotation from Hendrickson: “Never lose your curiosity about everything in the universe — it can take you places you never thought possible!”

Then, it draws young readers into her world, which sprawls far beyond fearsome dinosaurs to include explorations of seemingly every sort.

Buzzeo writes about the little girl Hendrickson once was: “Treasure hunting was the perfect job for a shy girl. When she was young, Sue would walk alone through the alley behind her home in Munster, Indiana, with her head down. She was on a mission — to find things!

“And she often did . . . .

“She dialed her curiosity up to HIGH and discovered everything about anything that interested her.”

Chicago artist Diana Sudyka conveys young Sue Hendrickson’s world with delightful illustrations.
In “When Sue Found Sue,” Chicago artist Diana Sudyka conveys young Sue Hendrickson’s world with delightful illustrations.
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Despite putting no more than about 10 short lines on each page, Buzzeo and Sudyka create a very specific world, one a little one teetering on the brink of slumber could imagine even without looking at the pictures.

Sue’s discovery came on Aug. 12, 1990. Her exploration team had gone off into a town to fix a flat tire. Sue took that opportunity to check out the distant sandstone cliff she felt drawn to.

“She and her golden retriever, Gypsy, left camp alone that morning in a dense, misty fog — so unusual in the hot, dry plains,” Buzzeo writes. “They hiked for four hours across seven miles of rugged prairie land before they finally reached the rock face Sue had been so curious about.”

And when it came time to free the dinosaur from the cliff that held it for millions of years, it turned out that “releasing three hundred T. rex bones in 115-degree heat under the sweltering sun without damaging the bonds was neither quick nor easy.”

Good nonfiction for young readers says just enough — and conjures even more. With Sudyka’s illustrations building on Buzzeo’s words, “When Sue Found Sue” enchantingly evokes the world of Sue Hendrickson from the time she was “mighty small.”

And it inspires its young readers to be curious, too, to dream and live their own dreams.

“When Sue Found Sue” is aimed at kids 4 to 8 years old but also a good read-to book for younger children.

Abrams Books for Young Readers