August 23, 2012
(++++) DINO DYNAMISM
How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas? By Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Mark Teague. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $16.99.
How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? By Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Mark Teague. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $16.99.
Dinosaurs! A Prehistoric Touch-and-Feel Adventure! By Jeffrey Burton. Illustrated by John Bendall-Brunello. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $14.99.
The inimitable dinosaur-themed behavior books of Jane Yolen and Mark Teague get distinct seasonal twists with How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas? and How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? The books’ format is so standardized at this point that it risks becoming formulaic, and in fact the approach treads the “formula” line rather more closely in this pair of entries than in the past, since Yolen’s text is almost exactly parallel in these two entries. In the Christmas book, for example, the dinosaur (a Gigantoraptor, of all things) “gives his grandparents big Christmas Eve wishes,” while in the Chanukah entry, he (a Camarasaurus) “gives Bubbie and Zaida big Chanukah wishes.” Of course, the underlying assumption of these books is that families will buy one or the other, not both; and in the spirit of trying to equate Christian and Jewish winter holidays (which are not really equivalent in the respective religions, but are handled as if they are in secular society), it makes sense to have texts that match as closely as possible. But actually, it is what does not match in the two books that makes them particularly delightful: Teague, who goes farther and farther afield in search of authentic dinosaurs to interpret for these books, has an entirely different cast of characters for these two volumes. For Christmas, a misbehaving Suchomimus rips open presents at the wrong time, a Guanlong eats Santa’s cookies, and – in an especially clever touch – the correctly behaving dino singing Christmas carols has his identity, Einiosaurus, written on the cover of his carol book. For Chanukah, it is a misbehaving dino that writes his own name on all the gift cards: Ichtyostega. And a Nyctosaurus grabs all the dreidels so no one else gets to play. But a Dracorex, behaving properly, goes to bed at the right time and sleeps peacefully, clutching a teddy bear. The basic idea of these books is as clever as always: using dinosaurs, realistically drawn and very brightly colored, as stand-ins for kids, demonstrating both bad manners and correct behavior. If Yolen’s texts have lost some of their creativity, Teague’s art has lost none of it, and these two new books will be seasonal delights for any families that celebrate the holidays that the books present so winningly.
There is nothing seasonal about Dinosaurs! A Prehistoric Touch-and-Feel Adventure! This oversize board book uses dinos in a different way. Aimed at the very youngest children, Jeffrey Burton’s book goes out of its way to avoid being scary, showing all the dinosaurs – herbivores and carnivores alike – getting along very well together, and all having human expressions, gestures and even proportions. A Tyrannosaurs Rex, for example, has unrealistically long arms and is shown throwing them wide in a very childlike way, undercutting any possible worry about a text that says “sharp teeth chomp!” – which goes with a slider that makes the dino’s mouth open and close. The interactivity here includes several flaps to fold out (doing so reveals more of the text as well as additional pictures), a wheel to turn (making stars appear and disappear), feathers and bumpy scales to feel, and one 3-D foldout that may startle the youngest children the first time it opens but that will bring shrieks of delight thereafter. John Bendall-Brunello sometimes goes a bit overboard in humanizing the dinos – it is hard to accept a text that says “beware!” when everyone is smiling at everyone else. But for very young kids, this dinosaur hunt will be a lot of fun in any season – and for slightly older ones, the names of all the dinosaurs pictured (given as part of the final foldout) will be enjoyable to learn.