Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Book Club: Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please see my Terms of Use and Disclosure Policy page. Thank you.

When seeing the title of the book, Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor, on the shelf at the library, I was very intrigued. Having worked at a metropolitan zoo, I have helped provide care for their education reptiles and amphibians. So, I thought this would allow me to share some of that experience with our children.

The story is set in England and starts probably in the early 1900s, when Joan was a young girl. From her early days, she was interested in reading about lizards and crocodiles and even had a small crocodile as a pet as a teen (I do NOT recommend keeping alligators or crocodiles as pets. Please see my notes below.)

Unfortunately, the life of Joan Procter was not an easy one as she suffered from chronic intestinal illnesses which limited her attendance at school. She did not allow that to hinder her pursuit of her interests as she sought out Dr. George Boulenger, curator of the reptiles and fish at the Natural History Museum. She impressed him, became his assistant, and eventually took over when Boulenger retired.

In 1923, Procter was appointed the curator of Reptiles at the London Zoo. She designed the new Reptile House with many features that are still used in zoos today—like heated rocks to appeal to the cold-blooded reptiles.

Probably the most exciting adventure in her lifetime was the arrival of two Komodo Dragons to the London Zoo. The two dragons, named Sumba and Sumbawa (after Indonesian islands near Komodo Island), had a special exhibit designed by Proctor with a large cave, swimming pool, and heated rocks.

The children's story book does not provide too much information about the Komodo Dragons other than bringing to light the way that Procter interacted with Sumbawa. She would bring him to public meetings, to walks around the zoo, and to children's tea parties. (As I was reading the book to my kids, I could not help but think of how dangerous this could be.)

komodo dragon

Komodo Dragon Facts

  • Carnivore – eat almost anything 
  • Lives up to 30 years 
  • 10 feet in length 
  • 330 pounds 
  • Native to the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia 
  • Heaviest lizard on Earth 
Komodo Dragons have venom glands. They use camouflage and wait patiently to bite their victim. They will then bite with their serrated teeth and leave huge wounds that allow the venom to work its poison on their prey: usually deer, pig, smaller Komodo Dragon, or water buffalo. The venom causes massive bleeding and eventually shock which leads to death. The Komodo Dragon can then enjoy its meal. 

Reptiles As Pets

Research - Research - Research!

There are many ways to keep reptiles safely as pets. I have several friends and family members who keep and breed snakes, lizards, and other reptiles but they have done years of research to ensure that they maintain a safe environment for not only their family members and friends but also their animals. You should never get a pet without checking local, state, and national laws as well as researching the habits, diet, and requirements of keeping a specific animal. It is also recommended that you find a veterinarian who will be able to treat your pet before you make any purchase. In addition to reading (both online and in books), you can find out more information about keeping reptiles as pets by visiting a local reptile show.

Komodo Dragon Painting 

drawing of komodo dragon
One of our two Komodo Dragons before they were painted.


  • Brown wrapping paper 
  • Paint
  • Paint brushes 
I used some brown wrapping paper and drew out line drawings of Komodo Dragons for our children to paint. This painting activity will work well with any animal that you can sketch.

I created paint palettes for the kids with paper plates.

It took about an hour for each of them to paint their entire Komodo Dragon.

I didn't worry if our children were coloring the pictures the 'right' colors.


  1. Love that you did a project to go along with the book. I want to start a book club!

    1. Thanks! My kids love craft time so it works perfectly for us and the blog.

  2. I'm starting to be inspired to do these kinds of book units!

  3. What a fascinating story. I've never been open to having reptiles as pets, but it would be interesting to read about. Love the craft project!

    1. I had never heard of her and this was really cool to learn. I would have reptiles as pets if it didn't mean keeping rodents or bugs for food for them.

  4. Loving the Komodo Dragon project. I really need to get back into doing more hands-on projects with my kids.

    1. I liked doing this with the kids b/c we reused some packing paper, they had fun painting, and it took a long time!

  5. What an interesting book! Thank you for sharing it and the craft idea to go with it.