Friday, July 25, 2008

Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek by Evelyn Sibley Lampman, illustrated by Herbert Buel

I had high hopes of putting this into my growing "small town adventures" collection. Cheerful, often humorous stories of life in small towns, especially in the mid-twentieth century and often involving mysteries. My collection includes such gems as the works of Elizabeth Enright, Donald Sobol, Keith Robertson, and many more.

Sadly, Ms. Lampman will not be joining the ranks. On the surface, this is a good candidate - even sounds a bit like the classic Enormous Egg. Two children, living on their mother's newly inherited ranch, are worried about money problems, which may force them to move back to town. When a professor shows up to hunt for dinosaur bones, they have high hopes of getting enough money to enable them to stay. Then they discover a real, live stegosaurus. Who talks. English. Things move on from there, including a rough diamond pilot, seemingly inoffensive bank robber, and the bones of Eohippus, the prehistoric horse.

There are several serious flaws in this story. First, the children, especially Joey, are money-grubbing, selfish opportunists, who continually persist in trying to use George, the stegosaurus, throughout the story. Although their concern about money is understandable, it's not justification for their icky behavior. Plus, having lived in the southwest myself, I find it difficult to understand why they would want to live on an isolated, drought-ridden ranch merely because "It was fun living in the country by themselves....There was the tumbling old barn to live in, and it was a contest against the weather to coax the garden to grow. There were strange insects, and every once in a while they caught a glimpse of a jack rabbit..."

The most serious flaw is....George. Why on earth should a stegosaurus be able to talk English? If he's isolated enough to think a car is a dinosaur and a plane is a Pterodactyl, how does he know that A. the children are harmless, B. they talk English? Any little inconsistencies are explained away by his lugubrious voice, "that was instinct" or "I know I'm stupid."

Presumably, after inadvertently wrecking his home and leaving the children in possession of the reward for catching the bank robbers, payment for various boarders, reward for finding Eohippus, and eventually money for the ranch which will be near the new dam (a glut which should satisfy even their greedy little hearts) George at some point returns in the sequel.

However, I think he should have died a natural death. Long, long, ago.

Verdict: Collectors may be interested in this title, but those who read older fiction for pleasure should give it a miss.

ISBN: N/A; Published 1955 by Doubleday (there is a reprint edition currently in print from Purple House Press); Borrowed from the library

1 comment:

72mpvet said...

My Teacher read us that story in third grade and that was in the 60s. you have to remember back then dinosaur info was mostly about bones and the rest was left to imagination.I loved the book and can still remember the story to this day ( nearly 41 years ago). Its for the very young. think about it we thought the moon was made of cheese. I believe the book was written in the med 50s. Michael S.M.