Friday, November 13, 2009

How do dinosaurs say I love you? by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mike Teague

Recently, I confessed that I was a recent convert to Mo Willems. Now I have another confession to make. I've never read a Dinosaur book by Jane Yolen. Sure, I knew where they were and they're on the dinosaur reading list and all, but I'd just never read one. I thought they sounded sappy.

So, now that I have the newest one before me....I have to revise my opinion. The text on its own is very simple; just a list of bad dinosaur behaviors, corresponding dinosaurs being nice, and parents reiterating their love.

It's the illustrations that turn this into a classic that's going to be around for a long, long time. But first, a digression. There was recently an article somewhere on the rise of misbehavior in children's books. I've forgotten what it was titled, where it was printed, and whose blog I saw it on first, but it's out there somewhere. Anybody remember? Anyways, this series was mentioned so I went through and did a little checklist.
  • Dinosaur wakes up fussy and won't eat breakfast; Dinosaur waves and blows kisses as it leaves
  • Dinosaur doesn't play nicely; Dinosaur smiles
  • Dinosaur won't take nap and floods house; Dinosaur cleans up
  • Dinosaur misbehaves in car; Dinosaur holds hands in store
  • Dinosaur makes mess at dinner and won't go to bed; Dinosaur calms down, smiles, kisses and hugs know what I see? A toddler. Well, duh, you say, the dinosaurs are obviously toddlers. No, what I'm saying is I'm seeing a toddler who's learning how the world works. That you can't have everything you want. Some mistakes you can fix, sometimes all you can do is say sorry. Also, toddlers have a short attention span - they aren't going to remember something bad they did a couple hours later. Exasperating but true. So the text here is a reassuring model for toddlers, showing them how to clean up and calm down after making mistakes and reminding parents that no matter how exhausting and problematic kids can be, there are sweet rewards as well.

Ok, back to the illustrations. Teague's style reminds me a little of some of William Joyce's work; they both have that retro feel while keeping their art completely contemporary (I'm very proud of that sentence, me not knowing much about art). What I really like in the artwork, and what I think has held toddlers' attention in the past and will continue to grab them, is the gorgeous dinosaurs. Lots of color, movement, and unique shapes and decorations; kids will have fun matching up all the different dinosaurs with the ones on the endpapers and giggling over their silly behavior. Teague manages to make giant prehistoric creatures act believably as small children. Parents will laugh and nod their heads - it seems silly to picture toddlers as humongous dinosaurs, but when you're dealing with an angry/fussy/stubborn/upset toddler, they certainly feel as big as whatever space you're in!

Verdict: I don't usually put an age range on my reviews, but I think this one has two definite audiences; toddlers and parents of toddlers. Hand these over to dinosaur-loving, perpetually wiggling kids and their harried parents, sit back and watch them bond.

Update: Thanks Anamaria! The article I was thinking of is from the New Yorker, "Children's books, parents, and discipline," Zalewski, 10/19/2009

ISBN: 978-0545143141; Published October 2009 by Blue Sky Press; Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates


Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

I haven't seen this one yet, but I agree with you about Teague's illustrations for this series; they're excellent. I think the article you're thinking of is from the New Yorker, "Children's books, parents, and discipline," Zalewski, 10/19/2009?

Jennifer said...

Ah, that was it. Thanks!