This Wednesday, May 15, is National Dinosaur Day! At least, according to some sources. I’m seeing evidence that it’s May 15, but also that it’s celebrated on the “third Tuesday in May” which would be May 21. And apparently it’s also observed on June 1. So, yeah, things aren’t entirely well-defined there, but if you’ve read anything about paleontology, you’ll know that this seems appropriate: the things we know about dinosaurs are constantly being updated as new discoveries are made, and our understanding of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures continues to grow and evolve.
Whether you want to celebrate National Dinosaur Day this week, next week, or at the beginning of June (or why not all three?), here are a stack of picture books and comic books about dinosaurs.
Tiny the T. Rex wants to cheer up his friend Pointy the Stegosaurus, so he’s on a mission to learn how to hug. But, as everyone knows, a T. Rex has very tiny arms and hugging is pretty hard. Tiny asks various family members for advice (to varying degrees of success), but he’s very determined. It’s a sweet book for anyone who loves cute (and silly) little dinosaurs.
When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Diana Sudyka
In 1990, Sue Hendrickson discovered a T. Rex skeleton in South Dakota, which turned out to be the most complete, best preserved T. Rex skeleton in the world. This picture book introduces the readers to Sue as a child, whose curiosity led her to search—both for things and for knowledge. I like the fact that her shyness as a child isn’t portrayed as something to be overcome (as is often the case in picture books) but that it’s simply a part of who she was, and perhaps part of the reason she was so attentive and able to find hidden things. The picture book glosses over the “long dispute about ownership” but there’s a little more about it in the author’s note: because the skeleton was found on a Sioux reservation, there were disputes over who owned the skeleton or had the right to sell it. Still, the book itself is a wonderful story about exploration, curiosity, and discovery.
This is an easy reader book in Mo Willems’ “Elephant & Piggie Like Reading” series, where each book has a brief intro and outro featuring Elephant and Piggie. In this book, a young dinosaur comes across a sign that says “Dinosaurs do not scratch,” and makes it his mission to enforce this newly learned rule. As it so happens, each dinosaur that joins the group has an itch of some sort: a bee sting, a sunburn, a tag on a shirt. Will they be able to resist scratching? And what’s the reason for this strange rule, anyway? This is a very silly book, done in a similar style as the Elephant & Piggie books, with most of the text in the form of dialogue bubbles, and there’s a funny twist at the end.
This book is chock-full of dinosaur facts … and also “dinosaur opinions.” Ray Friesen, the cartoonist behind such silliness as Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken, teamed up with illustrator Mike Spiers to create this goofy book about dinosaurs. I backed it on Kickstarter a couple years ago, and it’s available from Friesen’s website. The book is a mixture of fact and fiction—though usually written in a way that it’s pretty obvious which is which. For instance: Quetzalcoatlus did not have teeth, “which means they never had to visit the dentist. Unless they just wanted to hang out with their dentist friends.” If you like dinosaurs and dinosaur jokes, this book’s for you.
Ronnie just failed her quiz about dinosaurs—but lucky for her, her neighbor Miss Lernin is a paleontologist. What’s more, she has science magic. Miss Lernin takes Ronnie on a trip to the Mesozoic Era, where they get to see dinosaurs up close, and follow the way that they evolve over the course of the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods. The book doesn’t include just dinosaurs, though: they also see how plants and insects developed, and they spend time in the oceans to see the changes in sea life as well.
I really enjoyed this book (as well as the second title in the series, Ocean Renegades!, because it’s filled cover to cover with fascinating information about these prehistoric time periods. The conversation between Ronnie and Miss Lernin is a great way to convey the information: you get a skeptical kid who just wants to see a T. Rex, and an enthusiastic teacher who has a passion for her subject (and, on occasion, corny jokes). As Ronnie learns, a lot of prehistoric animals are actually not dinosaurs, and learns about how they’re categorized. The book doesn’t just show us a lot of creatures with their names (though there is that), but also explains their genealogy so that we can see where they came from, and what modern-day creatures came from them.
The second book in the series actually skips backward to the Cambrian period, starting with life in the oceans and then following it as it gradually made its way onto land (and sometimes back again). If you’ve enjoyed the Science Comics series from First Second books, this series is a great companion to them.
Okay, we’ll veer back into the non-scientific dinosaur world for a few books now. Ralph is just a kid who’s trying not to get smushed by Melvin, the local bully … when he gets smushed by a T. Rex instead. As it turns out, the T. Rex was brought from the past by Professor Overdrive—who saves Ralph’s brain by putting it into the dinosaur’s body. It’s all part of a plan to save Earth from the intergalactic warlord Clobberus Crunch, who will destroy Earth unless it sends a champion to battle in his arena. Ralph finds himself in the unenviable position of fighting against the champions of other planets, even though he’s unsure of himself, even being in a powerful dinosaur body. So, there’s a lot of testosterone in this book for sure—there’s only one girl with any significant part in the storyline—but at least there’s a moral in there about standing up to bullies without becoming one yourself. And, you know, outlandish aliens in a space arena.
If you thought putting a kid’s brain into a T. Rex was bizarre, just wait until you meet the Manosaurs. Leo “Doc” Jeffries discovers a box of dinosaur eggs, along with a strange alien cube—and then the eggs hatch, with the dinosaurs growing rapidly to the size of unruly teenagers. They get their introduction to the 21st century by watching hours of television, so they pick personalities based on TV tropes: Rex is the strongest, but he’d rather daydream than fight. Ptor (short for “raptor) is a hunter—and the “funny one.” Meanwhile, we learn that these four have been saved from extinction by the Preservers, who also trapped the dread Armageddon when he was destroying dinosaur life on Earth. But although he’s trapped, he’s awake, and he still has some influence. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what to make of the Manosaurs. They do battle with Armageddon’s newly created minion, Man-Comet, and learn a little more about the modern world, but Doc is a bit of a layabout who basically fumbles his way to victory.
This last title includes a lot of facts about dinosaurs (and other prehistoric creatures), framed in a story about accidental time travel that sends them back to the Precambrian Era—at the bottom of the ocean. The explorers (a few kids, plus Dr. Da Vinci and his assistant) jump forward bit by bit, which gives them a lot of time to see the underwater life, particularly as they’re sent outside by the doctor to retrieve samples, repair cables, and other tasks. The book includes cartoonish portrayals of the creatures as well as more realistic illustrations in little sections between chapters. I did enjoy learning about a lot of creatures I hadn’t heard about before, but I found the characters to be a little too over-the-top for me. It was originally a Chinese comic, and uses some highly exaggerated reactions and expressions, so the characters are all over the place. Fans of manga may be less bothered by that, though, in which case this series makes a nice introduction to early life. This book covers up to the Silurian period, which means there’s still a long ways to go in later books.
My Current Stack
Lately I’ve been reading the Binti series by Nnedi Okorafor. Rebecca Angel covered it on GeekMom last year, and there’s a new hardcover edition that collects the trilogy, along with a new novella. I’ve had Okorafor on my to-read list for a while now, and I’m really enjoying this sci-fi series that has very different cultural roots than what I’m used to reading.
Disclosure: I received review copies of the books in this column.