May 17, 2012
(+++) BACK FROM THE PAST
Dinosoaring. By Deb Lund. Illustrated by Howard Fine. Harcourt. $16.99.
An Awesome Book! By Dallas Clayton. Harper. $16.99.
Deb Lund’s first two dinosaur adventure books took the sort-of-realistic-looking dinos out to sea (Dinosailors) and along the right of way on land (All Aboard the Dinotrain). Cleverly written and illustrated with careful precision by Howard Fine, whose somewhat-real-looking dinosaurs stood in contrast with the decidedly un-dinosaur-like things they were doing, the books were wonderful from start to finish. The creative team is the same for Dinosoaring, and the writing is again a delight (including the punning title), but this time the illustrations detract somewhat from the action instead of adding to it, resulting in a book with plenty of charm – but not quite as much as its predecessors had in the past. This time Fine uses gouache and watercolors, creating soft-edged, dreamlike illustrations that mesh too well with the silly theme of dinosaurs squashing themselves into a plane, pushing it (and flapping their “arms”) to get it off the ground, then doing aerial acrobatics to the delight of the crowd at an air show. Lund keeps just the right cadence on almost every page: “They dangle from their wide trapeze/ And dinodance on wings with ease./ The crowd below screams out for more./ They love to watch them dinosoar!” Eventually, the dinosaurs get airsick, decide they have had enough of games aloft, and jump off and out of the plane, their multicolored parachutes providing a gorgeous burst of color as they float the dinos gently back to earth and whatever their next adventure may turn out to be. Fans of the earlier books will surely want to have this one as well, but readers – kids and parents alike – may find themselves wondering why Dinosoaring does not pack quite the same punch as the earlier books in this series. The answer is the dino-art.
An Awesome Book! originally appeared in 2008, and it has not changed at all – even some of its silliest elements remain intact: “Ages 0-1000,” for example, and Dallas Clayton’s overly sweet remark, “Writing this book changed my entire life. I think it is important. I think you are important.” The basic theme of the book emerges four years later intact, however: kids, and adults as well, need to dream…and dream BIG. Clayton draws Rube Goldberg-like machines, throws improbable ideas together (musical baboons on one two-page spread, “teeny tiny trumpet players training pet raccoons” on the next), and contrasts the outrageously silly stuff with bland practicality, shown in an ordinary street scene where ordinary people are doing everyday things while their thought balloons show they are thinking of nothing at all – just grey cloudiness. The sheer profusion of Clayton’s drawings is what makes them so much fun: an entire page filled with loads of tiny hats, for example, and a two-page spread absolutely packed with matching silverware – an unlovely dream but a lovely illustration. The message is quite clear: instead of dreaming of “breakfast sandwiches” and similar slices of reality, “dream a dream as big as big could ever dream to be, then dream a dream ten times as big as that one dream you see.” The poetry, as in that last example, tends to be a little awkward in meter, but the hand-lettered words are so much fun to look at that their actual content comes to seem less significant than their visual impact; and, even better, the deliciousness of the illustrations is unending. Just check out the one of the huge creature, a sort of cat-eared kangaroo-dinosaur, made entirely of colored fluffballs representing dreams, and roaring a whole passel of those dream balls – bright yellow ones – in the shape of the word “ROAR.” This is a dream book, but despite the final image of a child in bed, it is not really a bedtime story, since its highly peculiar images may more likely produce nightmares than sweet dreams in susceptible children – take a look, for example, at the train (with a hat-and-earring-wearing gorilla as engineer) pulling a variety of odd railroad cars, one of which contains a hand and wrist holding aloft a vehicle made from a gigantic pineapple. Besides, Clayton keeps telling children to have BIG dreams and LOUD dreams, and the pictures that tumble over each other every which way scarcely seem like things calculated to help kids rest peacefully. But for children and adults who stay awake, the book is tremendous fun both to read and to reread, because there are so many new things to be found on each perusal of its pictures. Awesome is as awesome does, and The Awesome Book! certainly does.