While most 6-year-old girls play with Barbie dolls and My Little Ponies, Kennesaw resident Avery Rylander plays with her dinosaurs.
At night, when she goes to bed, Avery does her “dino research,” her mother, Sara Rylander said.
“She takes her dinosaur figurines and combs through her dinosaur books trying to determine each species,” Rylander said. “She’s started reading, so now another thing she does is try to pronounce all the names.”
In fact, one of the kindergartener's favorite places to visit is Cartersville's Tellus Science Museum, where she wanders through the Fossil Gallery, excitedly pointing to the various reptiles, and talking about when they lived and what they ate.
And, Tellus is where Avery met her friend Bill Montante, an engineer with an interest in paleontology who volunteers at the museum. Rylander said her daughter first met Montante about a year ago at the museum’s Family Science Night. Every time the family goes to an event at Tellus, Avery looks for her friend, who she calls “Mr. Bill”.
“When we met up with Mr. Bill at Tellus for a lecture on Appalachiosaurus, Avery didn't even want to sit next to us,” Sara Rylander said. “She took her seat next to Mr. Bill. So I think that he has helped her realize that dinosaurs aren't just something you read about in books or visit in museums. They're out there for the looking, and she intends to get to a point where she can be the one out there discovering new fossils.”
Montante said when he first met Avery, he was stunned by the depth of the then 5-year-old’s questions.
“She spouted dinosaur names and details that were new to me,” Montante said. “We both learned from each other. I remain in awe whenever she visits the museum and I am there at how much that young mind has embraced.”
The friendship between Avery and Montante goes beyond their meetings at the museum. Last Christmas, he gave Rylander a 75 million-year-old dinosaur bone to put in Avery’s stocking. Rylander said the moment Avery opened it was magical.
“She must have told everyone she met over the next few weeks that she had a real fossil,” Rylander said. “She knew that the fossil came from a collaboration between Mr. Bill and Santa, so for her, that was just about the coolest thing ever. It definitely made for a memorable Christmas morning.”
And, for her sixth birthday this month, Montante gave Avery one of nine Hadrosaur vertebrae that he brought back from a trip digging for fossils in Montana earlier this year.
“It was my way of building and sustaining a learning connection,” Montante said.
Life is all about discovery, said Montante, who described his life’s role as “planting knowledge seeds in fertile minds."
“When I place a piece of dinosaur bone in the hand of a curious child or adult, it often has profound changes in their lives,” Montante said. “No telling what that small relic from the past will inspire. I encourage children and adults to be life-long learners. There is so much to discover out there, regardless of the path taken; a whole universe of discovery.”