THE CHRISTMASAURUS Written by Tom Fletcher Illustrated by Shane Devries (Random House BYR; $13.99, Ages 8-12)
The Christmasaurus, a middle grade novel by singer-songwriter and YouTuber Tom Fletcher, brings us holiday magic in a new way. The Earth’s last dinosaur lives at the North Pole surrounded by a hubbub of activity and some awesome flying reindeer, but, he’s lonely. Around the world, young William Trundle, a dinosaur expert, wants Santa to bring him a dinosaur more than anything. The two are bound to meet, but their adventure isn’t what you’d expect.
I like that Tom Fletcher mashes together the struggles kids face at school and at home with our love and fascination for dinosaurs. Add in a bully, an evil villain, and some twists on tradition—and you thought the elves made the presents!—and you’ve got an exciting holiday story. Better still, you will care about William Trundle and the Christmasaurus; the characters have dimension and heart.
Shane Devries’s illustrations add humor and charm. The Christmasaurus is cute, beautiful, and spectacular all at once. Seeing him is heartwarming, but, “believing [in ourselves and in others] is the most powerful magic of all.”
HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR Written by Jill Esbaum and illustrated by Mike Boldt (Dial Books for Young Readers; $17.99; Ages 2-5)
If you’re looking for a gift for a child who is about to become an older sibling, look no further than Jill Esbaum’s hilarious and practical guide to big siblinghood, HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR with artwork by Mike Boldt. Here’s a description from Penguin Random House:
Good news: Your mom’s hatching a baby! Bad news: Babies take their sweet time. And when the baby finally hatches? He’s too little to play! He mostly screeches, eats, burps, sleeps, and poops. He doesn’t even know he’s a dinosaur! That’s where you come in. You can teach the baby just about everything–from peek-a-boo to roaring to table manners to bedtime. Growing a dinosaur is a big job, but you’re perfect for it. Why? Because one thing your baby brother wants more than anything . . . is to be just like you.
INTERVIEW: I was lucky enough to sit down for a chat (via Facebook Messenger) with Jill to talk about the book, finding time to write, and the perks of being a kidlit author.
Colleen Paeff:I love the way HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR is playful and funny, but it’s also a legitimate how-to guide for older siblings. Did the manuscript start out that way or did it evolve over time?
Jill Esbaum: Thanks, Colleen! That evolved over time. I wrote it to be a simple, entertaining book, but it sort of took on a life of its own. My editor grabbed onto the possibilities right away.
CP:Did you send it to your agent first or did it go straight to your editor?
JE: I sent it to my agent, Tricia Lawrence. I had my Dial editor, Jessica Dandino Garrison, in mind, though, and asked Tricia to send it to her first. It seemed like the kind of goofy humor she might like.
CP:So, you had worked with this editor before?
JE: Yes. We had worked together on both I HATCHED and I AM COW, HEAR ME MOO!
CP:Is it easier to work on something with an editor you’ve worked with before?
JE: Definitely, because you (sorta) know what might work for her/him and what probably won’t.
CP:How long was the process from first draft to publication for HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR?
JE: I sent it to Tricia in May of 2015, and by October we had an offer. The process didn’t really start until March, when the contract was finally buttoned up. So March, 2016, to January, 2018. Not bad.
CP:Is that faster than usual? Or is that normal for you?
JE: That was about the same as my other recent books. I once waited nearly 5 years, though, so 2 years felt like lightning speed. My last 5 (or so) books have all been about 2 to 2 and a half years from sale to publication.
CP:Wow. That seems fast!
JE: Still seems fast to me, too. My earlier books were mostly 3-year books.
CP:I’m curious about the ratio of stories you write to stories you sell. Do you have many manuscripts in the proverbial “drawer” or do you sell most of what you write?
JE: That’s hard to say right now. My agent has 6-7 picture book manuscripts that started to make the rounds last year. Considering my entire career, though, I suppose I sell…50% of what I write? That’s probably just because I refuse to give up on some that deserve the drawer. I can’t help tinkering with rejected stories in hopes of making them irresistible the next time out. That persistence has often paid off for me. An offer came in last month for a picture book that had been rejected 7-8 times since I wrote it in 2014.
CP:Do you usually work on one project at a time or several?
JE: Several. Right now, I have a chapter book, 3 picture book manuscripts, and a nonfiction project all front and center on my computer desktop.
CP:Are you someone who writes every day or do you have a more flexible schedule? And how do you squeeze it in around farm work, grandchildren, school visits, and teaching a summer writing workshop?!
JE: I don’t feel like I’ve been doing a very good job of it lately, honestly. Working on that. But I can’t always make writing my priority. Family comes first, always. One thing that has also been squeezing out writing time lately is handling the business side of being published. I don’t love it, and it’s a huge time suck. Long, leisurely days of “Hmm, what should I work on first?” are VERY few and far between, these days.
CP:But it seems like you’re so prolific!
JE: I don’t feel that way. I always feel like I should be writing more. For instance, I wrote a quick draft of a new picture book and sent it to my online critique group about 10 days ago. They’ve all weighed in, and I’m chomping at the bit to start tweaking. But I haven’t yet been able to make the time. Part of that is because I have a new book out and am doing my best to promote it, including my first-ever launch party this next weekend. Partly it’s because the flu sidelined a grandson’s babysitter, so I stepped in there. Grammy duty is one of the best parts of my life!
CP:Is hanging out with your grandkids a big source of inspiration for you?
JE: It is! And I hadn’t really expected that. My fingers are tightly crossed for a project going to its final yes/no meeting next month that springs entirely from a moment I experienced while babysitting my granddaughter. Crazy.
CP:I know you write both fiction and nonfiction. Do you have a soft spot for one over the other?
JE: I suppose I have a soft spot for fiction, but only because that comes entirely from my own imagination, and it’s a blast to see that come to life. I love writing nonfiction, too, because all the information I need is easily available to me, and all I have to do is figure out a way to make it engaging for kiddos.
CP:Let’s get back to HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR. I love the parts in the story where the text is vague, but the illustrations show something alarming, or moving, or downright hilarious. Did your manuscript go to the illustrator with art notes or was that all him?
JE: I did include brief art notes here and there. But much of it was left for the illustrator’s imagination. I don’t think I had an art note for the page in which the baby dino is teething on the cat. And that turned out to be one of my favorite illustrations.
CP:Yes! I love that one. And I love the one where the big brother roars and scares the baby. They both look so sad.
JE: I feel very fortunate that both Jessica and the illustrator, Mike Boldt, understood what I was trying to do.
CP:Do you have a favorite unexpected detail?
JE: My favorited unexpected detail is that Mike inserted picture books here and there with titles that are plays on books of his or mine. There’s I Don’t Want To Be a Stegosaurus (from his book with Dev Petty, I Don’t Want To Be a Frog); I Hatched; and I Am T. Rex, Hear Me Roar! (from my I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!) Too funny. Illustrators are brilliant.
CP:Yes! I love those, too. And I love how all the illustrations in the books are dinosaurs. It’s so clever.Did you see any artwork while it was in process or did you have to wait until it was complete?
JE: I did get to see the black and white sketches. It was obvious even then that this one would be special.
CP: Do you sometimes feel a sense of trepidation when you give up your manuscript to an illustrator?
JE: No, I never feel that way. I’m always excited to see what they bring to the story. Seeing their sketches feels like unwrapping a gift.
CP:What’s next for you?
JE: I have a couple of nonfiction books coming out in March. Picture book-wise, two projects are in the pipeline that I can’t yet talk about. And my fingers are tightly crossed for a third. Meanwhile, I’ll be writing whenever I can squeeze it in. Enough of that, and projects eventually get finished.
CP:What do you wish you’d known when you first started writing for children?
JE: I don’t think there’s anything I can say I wish I’d known. Getting to this point in my career has been one long, slow learning process, of course. But I can’t wish I’d had shortcuts, because everything that’s happened has made me a stronger writer.
CP:That’s good to know!
JE: The BEST thing that’s happened in the past 20 years: If anybody had told me, early on, that in 20 years I’d have this many amazing and talented author/illustrator friends all over the globe I would have thought that person was nuts. I mean, I live in Iowa; how would I meet them? Ha. Enter the internet. And SCBWI conferences and literature festivals. Meeting so many terrific book people has been one of the highlights of my life.
CP:It’s definitely one of the perks of this business. Thanks so much for doing this, Jill!
If you have a budding young paleontologist (and even if you don’t), this book’s inventive and colorful graphic design will delight and engage both children and adults.
Two children stop by the museum to “meet the dinosaurs” as the banner outside proclaims. Wait-don’t be so quick to turn the page: the first two pages fold out to form a four-page spread of the diorama-style exhibit.
But the children want to know:
WHO ARE THE DINOSAURS?
WHERE ARE THE DINOSAURS?
And the dinosaurs, peeking out from the jungle brush, call out:
HERE WE ARE
Pairs of two-page spreads combine to create clues and answers, comparing the characteristics of contemporary objects with dinosaur features. The design of the “clue” spread interacts with the “answer” spread and links the present to past.
A tall building is compared to the Sauroposeidon, a dinosaur that reached heights of 18 meters (almost 60 feet).
I AM TALL LIKE A SIX-STORY BUILDING …
The straight-edged tab on the shared page of the clue and the answer emphasizes both the building’s height and the long neck of the Sauroposeidon and gives children a peek into the stylized prehistoric environment.
In one two-page spread, the two friends float in a small boat over a large whale. The text of the clue reads:
I AM LONG LIKE A WHALE …
The next spread reveals the answer:
I AM A DIPLODOCUS.
In these two spreads, the shared tab follows the curving back and tail of both the whale and the diplodocus.
Not sure how to pronounce those complicated sounding dino names? Not to worry-the author provides a phonetic *translation” beneath the scientific name. Boy, I could have used this years ago when my sons and I struggled to pronounce names like MICROPACHYCEPHALOSAURUS (MY-cro-PACK-ee=SEFF-ah-low-SORE-us).
The final two pages fold out to reveal a four-page spread of the skeletons of each of the dinosaurs depicted in the book.
Simple words typed in capitol letters and some repetition in the sentences make the text accessible to toddlers and preschoolers. The diversity of the children and the dinosaurs they discover hint at the diversity of life and demonstrates that many children share the same wonder and amazement over dinosaurs.
Bold and colorful illustrations over two-page spreads, cheerful faces (Peskimo’s T-Rex is nothing like the raging monster in Jurassic Park), and the larger board book format guarantee interactivity. A block (buster) of a book (forgive the pun). Be prepared to read and play with this book more than once!
Christopher Franceschelli is the publisher and president of Handprint Books and the creator of other concept books like Alphablock and Countablock. See GRWR’s reviewer Rita Zobayan’s earlier review of Countablock, and check out School Library Journal’sinterview with the author. Peskimo, a British husband and wife team, did the artwork on both books. Visit their website to see more of their nostalgic, retro artwork.
If I Had a Raptor by George O’Connor is reviewed today by Rita Zobayan
Let’s face it, kids love pets: dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, even snakes and lizards. But raptors? You’d better believe it! In If I Had a Raptor by George O’Connor, (Candlewick Press, 2014 $15.99; Ages 3-7), a young girl brings home a “teensy and tiny and funny and fluffy” dinosaur. Never mind that the little fluff ball, named Dinah, could grow into a carnivorous beast. Her plucky caregiver showers her with lots of love and attention, and in that oh-so-special kid rationale explains why owning a raptor would be “the best thing ever!”
A baby raptor is so teensy and tiny that she would be easy to lose. I’d give her a little bell so I could always find her. If I had a raptor, she would like to sit on my lap, and I would let her. I might even have to trim her claws a little bit now and then.
The illustrations are fun, and the facial expressions are priceless. Check out Dinah’s face when she’s caught clawing the comfy chair. When our well-meaning pet owner awakens the sleeping dinosaur to play, Dinah’s half-closed eyes and pinched nostrils look incredibly similar to those of an annoyed cat. In fact, this raptor might just be part cat as she likes to “bask on a sunny windowsill or snuggle on clean laundry. She would sleep all day long. She will run around like crazy all night long…she would stalk the little things that catch her eye, like birds, or bugs, or even a dust bunny.”
My young daughter loved seeing Dinah grow from a lap-dinosaur to a full-sized raptor. And she howled with laughter when finicky eater Dinah sniffs at her dino-bowl and puts her snout in the air when she disapproves of the meal.
Whether your child already has a pet or not, he/she will be convinced that a raptor is a great addition to the household.