Pros: Creative word-play; playful pictures; fun way to learn dinosaur facts
Cons: None for dino or poem crazy kids!
It's so much fun to describe dinosaurs!
Big, long and tall, and oh, could they roar!
But if those words won't do - are you looking for more?
Why don't you come with me and explore?
In fact, come explore Douglas Florian's picture book Dinothesaurus: prehistoric poems and paintings.
I'm the mother of a little girl who likes dinosaurs but isn't dino-crazy. I don't know if it's a boy-thing, but my husband (still a big kid in many ways) absolutely loved dinosaurs when he was little. He knew their many names and could identify them by various traits. On a recent trip to the natural history museum, he got to share his enthusiasm about these long-extinct creatures as we wandered through rooms full of dinosaur bones and fossils.
My daughter may not be dino-crazy, but she loves poetry and word-play. While you might not think dinosaurs and poetry mix well, we beg to differ, especially after reading and looking together at this highly creative book. Our whole family enjoyed these humorous, rhyming poems, which managed to get in quite a few facts about a number of different kinds of dinosaurs, all while playing with language in creative ways.
Do you remember Brachiosaurus? On massive legs with knobby knees/It traveled very s l o w/And ate all day from tops of trees--/Grow, baby, grow!
Or how about the Plesiosaurs (PLEASE-ee-oh-saurs) who swam in deep seas, unlike dinosaurs. As they'll tell you themselves, via their poem, But we aren't vicious, we're very polite--/We always say PLEASE before we might bite.
Lines like this keep Dinothesaurus a page-turner. They tickle your funny bone (did dinosaurs have funny bones? hmm...). They also warm up your brain (hopefully a larger brain than the stegosaurus, whose brain was smaller than a plum) with their rich vocabulary.
And the artwork is wonderful. Each dino or prehistoric creature who gets his own poem, eighteen of them all (with two more general poems as an intro and closer to this twenty poem collection) also gets his own two-page illustrated spread. Every spread features a different background color painted on brown paper bags. This provides a textured background that reminds you a bit of a cave wall. The illustrations themselves are done in mixed media: sometimes collage, paint, or colored pencils. The author/illustrator even claims (in his tiny-word description of the illustrations on the title page) that he used dinosaur dust. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he didn't throw in some bits of dirt or dust!
So each painting is as different as the creature it celebrates, though all of them have in common a kind of primitive drawing style that suits the topic and complements the sophisticated and careful page design. One fun and frequent illustration element is the inclusion of letters (which sometimes look like stencils or newsprint) that spell out the dinosaur's name somewhere on the page. Sometimes the letters are almost hidden in paint layers. Sometimes they're spaced in ways that create shapes that mimic the dinosaur's shape. There's no shortage of things to look at and find in these pictures.
Ultimately though, it was the poems that kept us chortling and turning those pages. Whether it was the giganotosaurus (who lived one hundred million years before us) taking "giga-bites" when it got hungry, or the Iguanodon looking for his girlfriend Iguanodonna (dressed in pearls, no less) we found ourselves laughing. What a playful bunch of poems!
And parents who read aloud will rejoice: every dinosaur name comes with its phonetic pronunciation (as well as a translation that tells what the name means). This is a great help if you're rusty on dinosaur-speak or not married to a formerly dino-crazy kid. There's even a glossarysaurus in the back with more facts about each dino.
I highly recommend these playful, funny poems and pictures for all dino or poem crazy kids. Children six and up (and up and up!) will likely enjoy them most.
Dinothesaurus: prehistoric poems and paintings
by Douglas Florian
Atheneum Books, 2009
This review is part of the Lean-n-Mean VIII write-off. Join the fun and go lean!