December 22, 2016


How Do Dinosaurs Choose Their Pets? By Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Mark Teague. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $16.99.

Fly Guy Presents: Castles. By Tedd Arnold. Scholastic. $3.99.

     The latest dinosaur-themed marvel from the team of Jane Yolen and Mark Teague is even a touch odder than most. The basic approach is exactly the same: Yolen and Teague imagine kids as dinosaurs, rampaging about and doing wrong things in the first part of the book and then behaving responsibly in the latter part. The dinosaurs are draw hyper-realistically by Teague, and their real names are given, which makes these books educational on matters beyond manners. And Teague’s drawings have evolved as knowledge of dinosaurs has: quite a few of his fancifully colored dinos (actual colors remain speculative) now sport feathers, as scientific research indicates quite a lot of dinosaur species apparently did. Still, there are some distinctions in How Do Dinosaurs Choose Their Pets? The topic itself is a bit different from earlier manners-focused ones about behaving in school, acting properly with friends, saying good night or “I love you,” and so forth. It is even different from two previous Yolen/Teague “dinosaur pet” books, about the right way to show love for dogs and cats. This book is about choosing a pet in the first place, and that opens up all sorts of possibilities for hilarious mismatches between gigantic, looming dinosaurs and comparatively tiny animal companions. In fact, the inside front and inside back covers of the book are festooned with wonderful pictures showing dinosaurs interacting gently with tiny pet animals: a Yutyrannus bouncing joyfully in front of a bunny, a Qianzhousaurus about to bestow a pat on a cat’s head, an Ampelosaurus flipping onto its huge back in imitation of a puppy in the same position, and more. These dino names are unfamiliar – Teague long since finished going through the better-known dinosaurs and now offers ones that seem more and more outrĂ© – but all are shown so clearly that kids will have no problem relating to them. As for the “bad behavior” part of the book – well, that too is unusual here. One dino brings home a full-grown elephant, seen perched in a mighty large red wagon. Another acquires a fictional beast as a pet: a dragon, drawn as carefully and lovingly as are the dinosaurs themselves. Another chooses a very large boa constrictor that is seen eyeing a nearby dog “in a very odd way.” Also here are a shark in a huge bucket, a couple of zebras sitting human-style on a sofa, and more. The drawings are so delightful that they risk distracting kids from the book’s eventual message – to an even greater extent than usual. And that message involves choosing “a kitten or hamster or pup/ that he can teach manners/ as they both grow up.” Actually, the choice of pets here is a trifle on the limited side: there is no reason to exclude snakes and lizards (an iguana is in the “bad” part of the book), and options such as fish are never mentioned. But parents can supply those possibilities themselves after their own dinosaurs…err, children…finish the book and want to have a serious talk about what sort of pet the family needs to get immediately, if not sooner.

     While dinosaurs are providing guidance in manners and everyday living, a certain fly named Fly Guy is offering field trips that sometimes feature learning about animals (including dinosaurs!) and sometimes are all about places. The latest of these is Fly Guy Presents: Castles, and it is even more fact-packed than most other books in Tedd Arnold’s fact-focused series featuring the pet fly that can say his boy’s name, Buzz. As in all these books, photographs of the topic – in this case, castles and the people who lived in and around them – are accompanied by cartoon drawings of Fly Guy and Buzz, with Buzz serving as primary narrator while Fly Guy pronounces words in his unique way (“Yummzie!”) and interjects occasional fly-appropriate observations (“Flies lived in castles, too!” – said next to a bucket of spilled sludge). There is a great deal of fascinating information in these books, despite the lighthearted aspects of the presentation: the first castles were built in France, of earth and wood, before construction from stone began; a catapult designed to throw heavy objects at castle walls was called a mangonel; the castle rooms of ruling families were kept pleasant-smelling by hanging fresh herbs on the walls; Windsor Castle in England is the oldest castle in the world in which people still live; and more. The photos are often quite fascinating: kids will especially enjoy the side-by-side ones of Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle and Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, which was inspired by it; and the photo of Belvedere Castle in New York City is interesting because of its location and the fact that it is really a weather station. The book ends with Buzz and Fly Guy deciding to build their own castle – a sand castle at the beach – as they contemplate their next field trip. Fans of Fly Guy will enjoy thinking about upcoming real-world adventures, too, and may be inspired by this and other Fly Guy Presents books to learn more about the books’ topics on their own.

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