December 26, 2013


Walking with Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie—Encyclopedia; Handbook; Friends Stick Together; The Winter Ground; Patchi’s Big Adventure; The Great Migration; Reusable Sticker Book. HarperFestival: $12.99 (Encyclopedia); $9.99 (Handbook); $4.99 each (Adventure; Migration); $6.99 (Sticker). Harper: $16.99 each (Friends; Winter).

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Sticker Book! By Lucille Colandro. Illustrated by Jared Lee. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

     It is a sure bet that any major motion picture directed at kids will spawn a series of books designed to thrill, or at least intrigue, families that go to the movie and enjoy it. The books tend to follow the film fairly closely, so they are generally more in the nature of souvenir items than in-depth looks at whatever the movie may be about. And they are of course aimed only at people who have seen the movie and liked it.

     The books connected to Walking with Dinosaurs fall neatly into this pattern, but are at the same time of higher value than most tie-ins. The reason is that the film is based on a high-quality BBC documentary and is packed with science – albeit in the background of a typical kids’-movie story – and also filled with the wonderful visuals for which the BBC is rightly renowned. With an Encyclopedia and Handbook intended for ages 8-12 and five other books targeting ages 4-8, the Walking with Dinosaurs tie-ins have something, if not for everybody, then for everyone who finds the concept and its BBC visualization intriguing.

     The “separation and quest” plot of the movie will be familiar to anyone who has seen pretty much any child-oriented film in recent years. There are two adorable young dinosaurs, a larger and stronger one and a smaller and perkier one, who have a series of adventures after becoming separated from their parents and herd – and eventually manage a dangerous trek on their own, with a suitably happy ending. But it is not the clichéd plot that will attract most people to the movie or, for that matter, the books. The visualization of dinosaur life – romanticized life, to be sure, but scientifically accurate to the extent possible – is just wonderful, and really will make families feel they have become part of the dinosaur world for a short time.

     The books draw on this level of involvement. Encyclopedia not only discusses the history of dinosaurs, from their evolution to their extinction, but also introduces a number of specific types of dinosaurs and some of the scientists who study them and have made important discoveries in the field of paleontology. Handbook retells the story of the film and is packed with scenes from it, and also includes sections in which specific information on dinosaurs and their world is presented – again, with scientific accuracy.

     The books for younger children are tied more completely to the film, downplaying science and study and playing up adventure. Friends Stick Together and The Winter Ground are Level 2 books (“high-interest stories for developing readers”) in the I Can Read! series. The former is about Patchi, the cuter young dinosaur, meeting another Pachyrhinosaurus, Juniper, and facing challenges with her. The latter gets into some of those adventures more specifically as Patchi and Juniper head for their eventual destination.

     Patchi’s Big Adventure and The Great Migration are picture books showing various scenes from the movie and featuring special elements of their own. The former includes a pullout poster and a pair of 3D glasses that are designed to more-or-less duplicate the three-dimensional appearance of the film when showing specific elements of it in book form. The latter not only shows scenes from the movie but also includes more than 30 stickers that kids can use to play out the story or enhance it. And the Reusable Sticker Book is just what it says: a thin book containing more than 50 stickers that kids can use to place different dinosaurs and other creatures from the film in a variety of settings drawn from the movie. Families truly enthralled by Walking with Dinosaurs may want several of these books, while those who find the film fascinating but not overwhelming may want at least one – especially for children in the 8-12 age range, for whom the Encyclopedia and Handbook provide some solid educational information as well as recapitulations of scenes from the screen.

     And on the subject of sticker books, it is worth noting that they sometimes tie into series of regular books rather than to films or other entertainments. Lucille Colandro has produced a whole series of oversize paperbacks, with illustrations by Jared Lee, based on the well-known “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” rhyme – some of them cleverer and more innovative than others. Now there is a sticker-book spinoff from the series, and it is cleverer than most books in the series itself. The old lady is simply shown in various locations, smiling and with mouth open, with a few simple words: “There was an old lady who swallowed a zoo” or “There was an old lady who swallowed outer space,” for example. Except for a very few scene-setters, the backgrounds of the pages are blank – providing plenty of room for kids to place more than 100 stickers that are bound into the center of the book and clearly marked as to the pages with which they go. The “swallowed a playground” section includes, among other things, a kite, jump rope, swing set, water fountain and game of horseshoes; the “swallowed an ocean” one has a lobster, shark, submarine, lighthouse, mermaid and more. Kids can place the stickers anywhere they like on the appropriate pages – and it won’t take most kids long to realize that they can put the stickers on inappropriate pages, too. After all, given the absurdity of the whole premise of this series, why not place “farm” elements, such as a scarecrow, fence and tractor, on the pages on which the old lady “swallowed a street”? Colandro and Lee have thought of something like this already: the final pages of the book go with stickers taken from all the places where the old lady has been swallowing things – a sort of concluding mishmash that is right in line with all the books in this series. This is all so clever that it becomes a (++++) tie-in to a series that is more often at the (+++) level – although for full enjoyment, kids will have to know at least some of the books in the series itself.

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