December 16, 2011

Dinosaur Fantasy

        As every right-thinking six-year-old will tell you, dinosaurs are awesome.  (I'm a big fan of dinosaurs myself, and am especially fascinated by the evidence that has led to the discovery that many therapods were feathered.  Definitely cool stuff.  Too bad most dinosaur fiction is behind the times on this one, but oh well...)  It's certainly no surprise that dinosaurs should feature in many a fantasy or sci fi tale, from The Lost World by Doyle (1912) and The Land That Time Forgot by Burroughs (1918) to Jurassic Park by Crichton (1990).  Interacting with dinosaurs is high on any list of geek fantasies.  Here are a few dinosaur books we've enjoyed in our family.

The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth - A farm boy discovers a large egg laid by one of his hens, and out hatches a triceratops.  How to take care of "Uncle Beazley," how to find him a home at the Smithsonian… and how to deal with politicians getting up to their usual political shenanigans are the challenges faced by our young hero.  This is a fun and funny tale, with the feel-good spirit of "Mr Smith Goes to Washington," combined with gentle satire of the foolishness of the powerful, and of course the fun of a giant dinosaur in 1950's New Hampshire.

How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague - Perhaps this isn't really a fantasy book… but what else would you call it when parents everywhere try to enforce bedtime on children who are full-sized dinosaurs (and a couple other prehistoric reptiles)?  The funny rhyming text pairs wonderfully with the bright paintings full of clever details.  I knew we'd found a winner when two-and-a-half-year-old T commented that her fussing brother was "sort of like a corythosaurus."  (This book spawned an entire series, but I remain loyal to the original.)

Captain Raptor and the Space Pirates by Patrick O'Brien and Kevin O'Malley  - This graphic novel is a masterful mash-up of all the cheesy old space adventure tropes with… dinosaurs, of course!  Our hero is a space-suited velociraptor, flying his trusty spaceship with his loyal dinosaurian crew.  It's an old tale made new and enjoyable, because who could resist Dinosaurs In Space?  Definitely not me or my nine-year-old son P!

Dinotopia by James Gurney - Once again, it's the pictures that really make this book.  The concept is "Lost World"-ish: shipwreck survivors pitch up on an island where dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures have survived, and developed a society jointly with humans.  It takes the form of an explorer's journal, so although there is a certain unfolding of plot, it's really just an excuse to show all kinds of fun possibilities for such a dino-human civilization.  We get to see everything from dung collection to the loftiest ceremonial monuments, along with notes on Dinotopian writing, timekeeping, architecture, etc.  This book is most enjoyable for browsing.  Younger kids won't read it through, but they still love the pictures.

        Also worth mentioning are: 
Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff - Okay, I never cared all that much for this one, but for a generation or more it was the book that introduced the fantasy of having a dinosaur for a friend.

The Strictest School in the World by Howard Whitehouse - I've mentioned this book before (here) but since it features pterodactyls, I had to include it in this list.

Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne - Again, not a book that inspires any passion in me (I find the whole series pretty insipid), but it is a good representative of many kids' first book about travelling to the time of the dinosaurs.  I do appreciate the attempt to get kids excited about non-fiction topics and about using their imaginations.

        I conclude with the traditional Dinotopian farewell: Breathe deep.  Seek peace.

[Pictures: Uncle Beazley out for a walk, drawing by Mark Crilley, from The Enormous Egg, 2009;
Tyrannosaurus Rex, painting by Mark Teague, from How do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, 2000;
Captain Raptor, painting by Patrick O'Brien, from Captain Raptor and the Space Pirates, 2007;
Treetown, painting by James Gurney, from Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time, 1992.]


Charlotte said...

Captain Raptor looks cool! I'll have to check it out.

Pax said...

I've been quite fond of Uncle Beasley, and enjoyed reading "How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?" to my grand children. But the picture you've chosen from "Dinotopia" (a book I've never read) is sheer delight: pure, delightful fantasy. It's the kind of picture I love to look at for a long time, imagining myself clambering around, exploring such a marvelous landscape and community of creatures. Thanks!