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Dinosaurs Before Dark Graphic Novel – Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House Series

DINOSAURS BEFORE DARK GRAPHIC NOVEL

Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series

Written by Jenny Laird

Illustrated by Kelly and Nichole Matthews

(Random House BYR; $16.99, Ages 6-9)

 

DinosaursBeforeDark MTH graphicnovel cover

 

 

“I wish I could go there…”

 

Any reader of Osborne’s beloved Magic Treehouse chapter book series knows that uttering those magical words while holding a book in the Magic Tree House will instantly transport the child back into the time and place of the book and an action-packed adventure.

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Dinosaurs Before Dark GN Int1
Interior art from Dinosaurs Before Dark Graphic Novel, Mary Pope Osborne’s The Magic Tree House series illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews and adapted by Jenny Laird, Random House BYR ©2021.

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This first title in the graphic novel adaptations of the chapter book series, Dinosaurs Before Dark, introduces eight-and-a-half-year-old Jack and his younger sister, Annie, residents of Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. While playing in the wooded area near their home, they discover a tree house filled with books. As they excitedly explore the books, Jack finds a book about dinosaurs. Gazing at one of the illustrations, he wishes he could go there. Suddenly, a giant wind begins to spin the tree house and whoosh! It whisks them away to the Cretaceous Period.

While exploring this new environment, they encounter a few of the period’s dinosaurs without incident until a very large and frightening Tyrannosaurus Rex comes roaring and stomping their way. After some hair-raising attempts to dodge it, they make it back to the tree house. Now they just need to figure out how they can get home in one piece … and in time for dinner!

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Dinosaurs Before Dark GN Int2
Interior art from Dinosaurs Before Dark Graphic Novel, Mary Pope Osborne’s The Magic Tree House series illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews and adapted by Jenny Laird, Random House BYR ©2021.

 

Laird remains true to the original story and her dialogue, along with the Kellys’ illustrations, propel the storyline. Like the chapter book, the graphic novel is neatly organized into short chapters, each ending on a cliffhanger.

Illustrators Kelly and Nichole Matthews have modeled Jack and Annie after the Sal Murdocca illustrations for the chapter book. The Matthews, who are twin sisters, creatively combine detail, color, and a more complex layout to help interpret the chapter book’s narrative. The panels sequencing the tremendous wind that spins the house back into history include a vivid two-page spread (pp 26-27) that conveys the force of the wind. Another full page is used to dramatize the height of the tree house as Jack and Annie descend from it to a world no humans have ever seen (p. 62).

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Dinosaurs Before Dark GN Int3
Interior art from Dinosaurs Before Dark Graphic Novel, Mary Pope Osborne’s The Magic Tree House series illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews and adapted by Jenny Laird, Random House BYR ©2021.

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This graphic novel adaptation is a great introduction to the chapter book series for younger and emerging readers and could actually replace it in popularity since the format is much more vibrant and engaging than the original chapter book series. So while it’s recommended for ages 6-9, I think children as young as five years old would find it an entertaining read.

Check out this YouTube video to hear how Jenny Laird adapted Osborne’s novel. And for more about the Matthews sisters, visit their website. Fans can also check out the Magic Tree House website here.

  •  Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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For President’s Day Read About Abraham Lincoln Pro Wrestler by Steve Sheinkin

ABRAHAM LINCOLN PRO WRESTLER
TIME TWISTERS BOOK ONE
Written by Steve Sheinkin
Illustrated by Neil Swaab
(Roaring Brook Press; $13.99, Ages 7-10)

 

Abraham Lincoln Pro Wrestler Time Twisters Book One cover illustration

 

 

Don’t let the title, Abraham Lincoln Pro Wrestler, convince you that this totally entertaining and educational read is comprised of our 16th president traipsing around in a wrestling singlet. It is actually the first in a clever fiction chapter book series that features lots of laugh out load moments that kept me turning the pages to see how the two main characters, step-siblings Abby and Doc, would pull off some whimsical time travel twists that bring Abraham Lincoln’s presidency to life but could also change the course of history.

The story unfolds with the kids in Ms. Maybee’s history class being instructed to read aloud from their textbook section about Honest Abe. When the teacher tries to get her students involved, the general reaction is a resounding “BORING!” It turns out, though, that their disinterest has negatively impacted historical figures including Lincoln. Because of that, when Ms. Maybee’s class attempts to read about America’s influential president and his profound impact on our country’s history, the students can only find references to Abraham Lincoln essentially doing zilch—”sitting in a chair, reading or heading off to the outhouse.”

In an interesting scene that sets the stage for all the story’s zany action, Lincoln travels to the present to offer words of caution. “Saying I’m boring, groaning in agony when it comes time to read about history. As I said, today was just a warning. If you do it again—well, you’ll see.” The next attempt to study the 16th president also fails, but instead of Lincoln returning to the library storage room to warn Abby and Doc, Doc disappears into the same box (portal) that brought Lincoln to the present from 1860 Illinois. Abby follows and the two wind up outside of Lincoln’s house. There they meet Lincoln and his wife, Mary who tells them the election is tomorrow. With her husband no longer caring, Mary and the kids are worried. “Then we’re doomed! … The country will break apart! Everything we have worked for—all thrown away!” The kids feel awful, certain they’ve screwed with fate, especially after their dad, Mr. Douglass, also a teacher, impresses upon the two how important history is. “But knowing history makes you smarter, helps you understand the world better. Mostly, it’s just fun.”

The problem is Doc and Abby now need to get Abraham Lincoln engaged again while also getting their classmates to realize how much history matters. This may not be easy. When Lincoln hears about a school fundraiser, a pro wrestling match scheduled for that evening, he’d much rather quit the past and attend the big event. He just happens to be in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame! At the same time, Doc has time travelled back to election day with the gym teacher, Mr. Biddle, who earlier dressed as Honest Abe (a term he despised) for a special surprise presentation at school. His goal: get the real Lincoln concerned enough to step back into his rightful place and accept the presidency. I especially liked this part because of all the facts about Lincoln that Sheinkin shares and how the two Abes get up to all sorts of shenanigans along with Abby and Doc. There’s so much humor infused into this history lesson that readers will not even realize how much fun they’re having learning about a time when our country was so “bitterly divided, mainly over the issue of slavery.” Kids will breeze through the eighteen chapters and will be delighted to learn there are more books available already in this pleasing series. The cartoon-like illustrations by Swaab add to the silliness as well as offer an easy way into absorbing history for the more reluctant readers.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here for Reading Guide for Teachers

Start reading the story here.

 

 

 

 

Read more about Abraham Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words.

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Have Time Machine – Will Travel

9780399256462HThe Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman (Nancy Paulsen Books, $16.99, Ages 10 and up) is reviewed by Hilary Taber.

If you had the power to time travel in order to stop a horrible event from happening would you do it? Would you change history? Yet how much of history is really safe to change, without altering present reality?

In this stand-alone companion novel to The Grimm Legacy, author Polly Shulman revisits the earlier venue of the New York Circulating Material Repository. This provides the reader with another set of adventures within the walls of the Repository, revealing more of the secrets hidden therein. The New York Circulating Material Repository isn’t a library for books, instead it houses objects of every kind imaginable. If a page would demonstrate that they are both capable and trustworthy, they might be able to look at and even borrow magical objects from the special collections.

In The Wells Bequest we meet Leo, an aspiring scientist and Jaya, the head page at the library. The library is facing a huge problem. One of the library’s pages, a boy named Simon, has gotten hold of Nikola Tesla’s death ray. Jealous of Leo and Jaya’s relationship, Simon must now be stopped from blowing up New York City into smithereens! Luckily, the Wells Bequest contains a time travel machine straight from H.G. Well’s book The Time Machine. Leo and Jaya must travel through time back to the 1890s in order to stop Simon’s evil plans. The clock is now ticking for Leo and Jaya. They must save their city, their families, friends, and the library itself from disappearing forever.

What impresses me most about both The Grimm Legacy and The Wells Bequest, is the sheer amount of research that I know must be at the heart of both these books. Intricately detailed, Ms. Shulman’s research adds depth to her fantasy world, making it even more believable. The Well’s Bequest is rich in background information that is both scientific and historical which makes it that rare kind of children’s book that instructs without resorting to lecturing. For example, did you know that Mark Twain knew Nikola Tesla? I didn’t before I read this book, but now I do! I wanted to high five someone when Mark Twain appeared as a character in the book (how cool is that?!), but it was three in the morning, so I waited. It is also worth noting how well-drawn the characters in the book are, especially the relationship between Leo and Jaya. Their relationship kept the plot lively and was realistic. It was full of the humorous, mild bickering that friends enjoy. They each admire the abilities the other possesses, and their friendship develops into a light romance.

Fans of Rick Riordan’s books, and those of us longing for another sort of Hogwarts (that we can imagine we could be a part of) will find a great summer read in The Wells Bequest. It’s very much like a very fast roller coaster ride experienced at a summertime theme park visit. There are unexpected plot twists and turns, there’s a rush of activity throughout the book (they are saving New York City after all), and a wind of information seems constantly about you, almost like another character in the book. Did it keep me guessing? You bet! Could two kids really time travel? Well, as Jaya asked, “’Would you really want to live in a world where only the possible is possible?’” I sure wouldn’t. Besides, you never know… one day it could happen!

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