March 23, 2006


All Aboard the Dinotrain. By Deb Lund. Illustrated by Howard Fine. Harcourt. $16.

Mama. By Jeanette Winter. Harcourt. $16.

     The brachiosaurus looks realistic. So do the spinosaurus, triceratops, hadrosaurus, stegosaurus and tyrannosaurus rex.  In fact, all the dinofamilies look realistic – except for their railroad caps, overalls and kids’ bonnets.  You see, All Aboard the Dinotrain is the second adventure of Deb Lund’s and Howard Fine’s dinosaurs aboard a conveyance that did not exist until some 65 million years after the dinosaurs became extinct.  This book partakes of the same silly sensibility as the previous one, Dinosailors, bringing back the same characters in new costumes.  Lund’s narrative poetry is inspired nonsense: “They clamber up and cling on top,/ Unsure of how they’ll dinostop./ They dinoduck and hide their eyes,/ But then they get a big surprise.”  The heavily weighted dinotrain can’t go very fast – it merely dinochugs until the crew decides to dinopush it.  The train goes up a hill, through “a dark and narrow dinotunnel,” and eventually encounters a missing trestle bridge – the result of which is a hilarious picture of the whole dinocrew crowded onto a handcar: “They dinopump instead of chug/ And make it home for one big hug.”  Kids ages 3-7 – and parents with a good sense of humor – will have a great time seeing the realistic-looking dinosaurs performing these acts of anachronistic absurdity.

     Mama is a story that only seems absurd.  It is a modern tale – set in late 2004 and 2005 – of a real-life baby hippo, orphaned by a storm, who seeks a mother and finds a most unlikely one.  Very simply told, with an emphasis on the emotional impact of being a baby looking for its mother, it is the story – as the author’s note at the end explains – of a hippopotamus named Owen who became a victim of the Indian Ocean tsunami that struck on December 26, 2004.  Owen was eventually rescued and taken to a wild-animal park – where he formed an immediate bond with a 130-year-old giant tortoise named Mzee (mm-ZAY).  Jeanette Winter’s book is not the first one to tell this tale: There is also Owen & Mzee (Scholastic), a far more detailed explanation of the story that features numerous outstanding photos of the hippo and tortoise bonding with each other – to such a point that they become inseparable.  Mama is a much simpler book that anthropomorphizes the animals and makes an emotional point rather than a scientific one.  Prettily illustrated and told with minimal language, it is recommended for all ages but will be most effective for young children – to whom a parent can explain the real-life story in more detail.  For kids who show a real interest in what happened, Mama would make an excellent introduction to Owen & Mzee.  Or Mama can simply stand on its own as an affecting story of an unusual and unexpected animal friendship.

1 comment:

  1. I just discovered your site, and I'm honored you included ALL ABOARD THE DINOTRAIN. It's been a fun dinojourney, and in Spring '09 it becomes a Dinothrillogy with DINOSOARING.

    Thanks for all you do for kids and those who care for them. Stop in and say hi at my web site -- I always respond to notes from kids.