July 20, 2006


The Random House Dinosaur Travel Guide. By Kelly Milner Halls. Random House. $10.99.

Hit the Road. By Caroline B. Cooney. Delacorte Press. $15.95.

     Real or fictional travel – take your pick of weirdness.  If you prefer the real world, or a semblance thereof, try The Random House Dinosaur Travel Guide to find out about more than 300 American and Canadian dinosaur-related places to go.  This is strictly a real-dinosaur guide – one of its flaws is that it takes the subject so seriously, not even including a chapter on kitschy dino theme parks and such.  But if you are serious about the planet-dominating animals that died out 65 million years ago, you can find someplace to go to further your interest in any of the 50 states – plus the District of Columbia and seven Canadian provinces.  Most states and provinces are large, so you cannot simply hop, skip and jump from one attraction to another.  But if you’re driving with an eye to dinosaur exploration, you’ll likely find something within a couple of hours of wherever you happen to be.

     Some of these sites are no surprise: Colorado, for example, is rich in dinosaur attractions (such as the University of Colorado Museum in Boulder, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and Dinosaur Trails of Purgatoire Valley in La Junta).  But how many amateur dino devotees know about the attractions of the Natural Stone Bridge and Caves in Pottersville, New York; Mastodon State Historic Site in Imperial, Missouri; Honolulu Community College; or the Hartman Prehistoric Garden in Austin, Texas?  Kelly Milner Halls has done a fine job of collecting information on places to go, including addresses, phone numbers and Web sites.  She presents everything matter-of-factly, without suggesting specific locations that are more worthy of a family’s travel time than others, so you’ll have to do some research on your own before using this book as a guide.  But once you hit the road, you’ll find Halls quite helpful – and her back-of-book dinosaur shopping information is a nice bonus.

     Speaking of hitting the road, Hit the Road is an entertaining fictional road trip featuring a 16-year-old driver who finds herself at the center of her determined grandmother’s plan to get together with old college roommates for what may be their final reunion.  Caroline B. Cooney is not sure whether she wants the book to be a romp or a sentimental journey, so she includes elements of both.  The central character is Brit, who has had her driver’s license for just 11 days when the whole Nannie weirdness starts.  Brit has a tendency to talk breathlessly – and to regress as she spends more time with Nannie’s generation: “’Gosh!’ said Brit, who had not said ‘gosh’ since third grade.  ‘I can’t wait to talk to him.  It’s been ages!’  She was terrified.”  Brit is initially reluctant to go along with Nannie’s adventurous plans, but she gradually warms up to them and to Nannie’s frail, elderly friends.  The generation gap – actually a two-generation gap – remains, but it takes on an endearing quality: “Brit was exhausted by the eighty-six-year-old-ness of the girls.  The way they changed their topics – and the topics they changed to!  Yes, she’d studied King Lear and hated every line of it.  It was hard to understand and ugly when you did.  How come they never read stuff where everybody lived happily ever after?”  Well, here’s a book where everybody does live happily, more or less – if not ever after, at least for a while.  It will be a little on the sweet side for some readers ages 12 and up – its intended audience – but should give others, especially those with living grandparents, a whole new way to look at aging.

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