Wednesday, July 27, 2011


NAAMAH AND THE ARK AT NIGHT, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, ill. by Holly Meade (Candlewick 2011)(ages 4+).  This sublime picture book presents the wife of Noah, whose lullaby sings the ark to sleep at night.

Inspired by the poetic structure of the ghazal, readers are treated to a tour of the ark in an elegant, soothing, and peacefully melodic text.  The collages of Holly Meade are wonderfully detailed and a perfect accompaniment, showing Naamah moving throughout the ship to bring peace to its passengers and crew during the forty days and nights of the tempest.  Altogether wonderful.   

Monday, July 25, 2011


DINOSAUR SUMMER, by Greg Bear (Warner, 1998)(ages 12+) is an intriguing sequel to Conan Doyle's THE LOST WORLD and a nice coming-of-age story as well.  It's 1947 and fifteen-year-old Peter Belzoni lives with his father Anthony, a wildlife photographer, in a tenement (his mother left them for Chicago).  There's never enough money and Peter often feels like the grown-up and sometimes out of place with his adventure-loving father.

Peter's not sure how to take it when his father gets an assignment from National Geographic: covering the last performance of the last dinosaur circus in North America.  It's some decades after Professor Challenger et al. came back from the lost world, launching the "Dinosaur Rush," and dinosaurs are kind of passe.

What Anthony didn't tell Peter is that there's more to the assignment than watching performing animals:  the dinosaurs remaining in Otto Gluck's circus are to be returned to Venezuela, and Anthony and Peter will be going along on the expedition to document the event.  Along the way, they encounter dangers from humans and wild creatures alike, and Peter comes to terms with his parents' divorce and where he is and wants to be in the world.

DINOSAUR SUMMER offers a likeable protagonist and a great premise, with a creative admixture of fictional and nonfictional dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures.

Oh, and did I mention, the cover and interior illustrations are by Tony DiTerlizzi?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jurassic Park IV!

At last week's Comic Con in San Diego, Steven Spielberg announced that JURASSIC PARK IV is in the works!  They have a story and a screenwriter and are hoping to make it "within two or three years."  

In the meantime, go check out Jurassic Park Legacy, a resource on all things Jurassic Park, and an interview at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs with its founder, Terry Alan Davis, Jr.

Also, Spielberg is producing TERRA NOVA, which premieres Monday, September 26, 2011, at 8/7c.  It's the story of a family who are sent back 85 million years from a future where humanity is faced with extinction and, apparently, features all kinds of Cretaceous (and other) critters.

As producer  Brannon Braga (of Star Trek: Voyager fame) put it, "we have dinosaurs we know from the fossil record but you get to make up your own dinosaurs as well."  (I think the "slasher" falls into the latter category :-)).

Paleontologist John ("Jack") Horner from the Museum of the Rockies is a consultant on the show (he also did Jurassic Park).

Friday, July 22, 2011


Don Tate and Allosaurus

Don Tate is the illustrator of more than forty books for children.  His two most recent books are SHE LOVED BASEBALL: THE EFFA MANLEY STORY, written by Audrey Vernick (HarperCollins 2010), and RON'S BIG MISSION, written by Rose Blue and Corinne Naden (Penguin 2009).  Both were Junior Library Guild Selections, and SHE LOVED BASEBALL made the Bank Street College Best Children's Books of the Year List for 2011.

Don's next book is DUKE ELLINGTON'S NUTCRACKER SUITE, written by Anna Harwell Celenza (Charlesbridge, November 2011).  In addition, Don is the author of the forthcoming IT JES' HAPPENED: WHEN BILL TRAYLOR STARTED TO DRAW, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Lee & Low, Spring 2012).

Above, Don poses with the Allosaurus in the rotunda of the American Museum of Natural History, New York.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?

Ulysses S. Grant IV (1893-1977)
This year marks the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.  I've always been fascinated by it and, particularly, by the personalities of the folks who shaped it.    

I was reading about General of the Army (and, later, President) Ulysses S. Grant the other day when I came across the fact that his grandson, Ulysses S. Grant IV (pictured to the left in 1918), was a paleontologist who specialized in molluscs.

This brought to mind two things:  (i) Elizabeth Law's pronouncement at the Austin SCBWI conference last February to the effect that "molluscs were the next big thing" in YA literature and that she was awaiting "bivalve love" manuscripts; and (ii) more seriously, my favorite extinct molluscs, the ammonites:
Ammonite, HMNS
Ammonite artist's conception, courtesy Wikipedia
Cephalopods, and therefore related to the octopus and squid, ammonites of the Late Cretaceous variety grew to as much as six feet in diameter.  They hung around the middle of the Western Interior Seaway and were preyed upon by mosasaurs.      
At one point, Grant was curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and also taught paleontology at UCLA.  Alas, rather than ammonites (which went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous), Grant appears to have specialized in California molluscs of the Cenozoic.  He also apparently appeared on "You Bet Your Life," the show where Groucho Marx always used to ask the question in the title to this post. 

I kind of wonder how much grief he got -- both as a kid and later as a professional -- because of his name...     


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Robinson Crusoe and Sam Magruder and all that...

When you’re writing a novel in which dinosaurs and humans interact, you’ve really got only two choices: bring them to you or go to them.   The classic novels THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT and THE LOST WORLD are examples of the former.  There don’t seem to be as many of the latter, but one I just came across is George Gaylord Simpson’s terrific THE DECHRONIZATION OF SAM MAGRUDER (St. Martin's Press 1997).  Simpson was one of the more renowned paleontologists of the 20th Century and the manuscript was found after his death in the 1980s by his daughter.  It has a forward by Arthur C. Clarke and an afterward by Stephen Jay Gould.

The novel is set in a framework similar to that of H.G. Wells' THE TIME MACHINE: several individuals discuss the implications of “tablets” they found, written by a human, and dated from the Cretaceous. The tablets tell the story of the time-traveling scientist Sam Magruder and his accidental transport back into time and his survival in the Mesozoic.  

He encounters T.rex, sauropods, hadrosaurs, and various nasty theropods in somewhat dated representations (apparently Simpson did not take to the newfangled notion that dinosaur were active, warm-blooded, or could have feathers) and discusses his other attempts to survive -- incluidng trying to find shelter, hunt, and start a fire...    

But the really intriguing thing is one of the questions posed at the beginning of the novel:  one character -- the Universal Historian -- opines that, by virtue of being lost in time, Sam Magruder is more lost, more alone than any human ever has been.  He argues that folks lost on desert islands or in outer space (the novel takes place a hundred years in the future) are not as lost as Sam Magruder, because they have at least the hope of rescue.  And that how he reacts to it is a sign of character.

I had a few reactions to this:  First, I think that in many recent robinsonnades (lost-on-a-desert-island stories) this despair over aloneness is absent.  I can't actually think of one off the top of my head in which this is addressed, other than ROBINSON CRUSOE itself.  Robinsonnades seem to have come to be more about physical survival than psychological.

But (second) I’m not entirely sure that Sam Magruder has absolutely no hope of rescue.  Admittedly, the novel sets it up so that, according to his theory of time travel, it would be impossible for anyone to duplicate Magruder's feat, and thus reach his precise point in time and space (apparently, you cannot control the time, date, or location of "landing.").  

But, of course, that’s only in his time…and in the future, presumably, there’s an infinite amount of it, so surely there is the possibility that someone a thousand years from when he left and a more developed scientific and engineering background might be able to find him.  Also, it's just possible that Magruder's theory might be incorrect (oddly enough, he never does contemplate this possibility). 

In any case, I think SAM MAGRUDER does portray that despair of (almost) absolute aloneness in a compelling manner.  Really, probably better than any robinsonnade I've read other than ROBINSON CRUSOE itself (Of course, in CRUSOE, overlaid was the despair of having been abandoned by God).   

Another thing that came to mind, though, is that this concept of absolute aloneness and the enormity thereof is a great literary vehicle for introducing the idea of the immensity of time and just how "far away" 65 million years ago really is.  That is, in addition to the philosophical question(s) posed, it presents a handle for grasping time as "distance" so that the modern reader can appreciate being lost in time in much the same way that early eighteenth century readers would have understood being lost at sea.        

Friday, July 15, 2011


David and wax T.rex
David Ostow is the illustrator of SO PUNK ROCK (and other ways to disappoint your mother) (FLUX 2009), a combo graphic-text novel co-written by his sister Micol.

It was a Booklist Top Ten Arts Books for Youth and a Top Ten Religious Books for Youth.
Check out an interview with David and Micol here.

In the picture, David poses in the lobby of the wax museum in San Antonio.

Monday, July 11, 2011


MISSING ON SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN, by Elise Broach (Henry Holt 2011)(ages 8-12)(first in a series).  Eleven-year-old Simon, ten-year-old Henry, and six-year-old Jack have been moved by their parents to a small Arizona town, over which looms the forbidding Superstition Mountain.  They've been warned not to go there, but when Josie, their cat disappears, what choice do they have?

Once there, they find three skulls and decide that the many rumors about the mysterious place just might be true.  Why have people been disappearing for the past sixty years?  Is there really a mother lode of gold there?  Together with their next-door neighbor, ten-year-old Delilah, the Parker siblings embark to solve the mystery...

MISSING ON SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN offers a thrilling and chilling mystery-adventure with an engaging cast and otherworldly setting.  With various threads left dangling, readers will be eagerly awaiting the next installment.     

Sunday, July 10, 2011


MINE! by Shutta Crum, ill. by Patrice Barton (Knopf 2011).  Two young children and a dog sort out what's MINE in this delightful, hilarious, and elegant picture book.  The text is brilliantly sparse but sufficient and the illustrations are expressive and funny.

A fine read for anyone who's ever had to share their toys.

Thursday, July 07, 2011


I was contemplating cryptids this week after having picked up the first two books is Roland Smith's terrific Cryptid Hunters series published by Hyperion and Scholastic:  The series features the adventures of thirteen-year-old twins Marty and Grace and their cryptid-hunting uncle.  In the first book, they're off to Africa to save the sauropod-shaped mokele-mbembe from facing a new extinction.  In the second, they're on a ship off the coast of New Zealand to find a giant squid.  Two more books are forthcoming...

Anyway, it got me thinking.  As a young reader, in addition to dinosaurs, one of the things that I was absolutely fascinated by was crytpids (although the word didn't actually exist back then): Bigfoot, Yeti, the Loch Ness Monstermokele-mbembe, and the like.  Just the idea that there were these creatures that could exist below the radar in our (apparently) very advanced world fascinated me.  And how cool would it have been to have come face to face with one or any of these?  Of course, in 1938, that very thing happened with the discovery of live coelacanths, thought to have gone extinct at the time of the dinosaurs...

The difference, of course, between dinosaurs and (most) cryptids is that the former were real, but they still tap into that same craving to see them live and that same wonder about what would happen if we encountered them today.  In the flesh.  And this fascination has been ongoing since very nearly the dawn of the dinosaurs themselves.

 The earliest life-sized sculptures were the "Crystal Palace dinosaurs" of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, built in the early 1850's, not long after Richard Owen coined the term "dinosaur."  Nowadays, of course, just about every natural history museum has skeletal and/or static or animatronic recreations.

Incidentally, for a great picture book treatment of Hawkins, check out the Caldecott Honor book, THE DINOSAURS OF WATERHOUSE HAWKINS,by Barbara Kerley, ill. by Brian Selznick (Scholastic 2001).

It took a little longer for Mesozoic creatures to appear in the literature, but ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs appeared in Jules Verne's 1864 novel, A JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.   Dinosaurs featured prominently in 1912's THE LOST WORLD, by Arthur Conan Doyle and 1918's THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  All three books relate to modern humans stumbling across remote and isolated ecosystems in which dinosaurs or other ancient beasts never went extinct.  And what would happen if we had to interact with them today...
 Of course, back then, they didn't have time travel.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011


WIENER WOLF, by Jeff Crosby (Hyperion 2011).  Wiener dog is bored with life with grandma.  What he craves is excitement!

But when he answers the call of the wild, he finds out the rebuttal is a little more than he bargained for...

With expressive illustrations and a timeless story, WIENER WOLF brings to life one dachshund's quest for self-actualization in this thoroughly fun, hilarious, and engaging picture book.

Jeff read from WIENER WOLF at BookPeople

Monday, July 04, 2011


THE YEAR WE WERE FAMOUS, by Carole Estby Dagg (Clarion/HMH 2011)(12+).  It's 1896, and seventeen-year-old Clara Estby and her mother Helga need to raise a lot of money fast -- to prevent foreclosure on the family farm.  Inspired by the intrepid Nellie Bly, they hatch a scheme to walk across the United States, from Spokane to New York City.  If they make it by the seven month deadline, a mysterious benefactor will pay them $10,000 and publish the account of their journey as a book.

En route, the mother-daughter pair encounters hardships and dangers and finds out more than a little bit about themselves and each other.

Based on the true story of the author's great-aunt and great-grandmother, THE YEAR WE WERE FAMOUS is a satisfying and thoroughly fascinating adventure road-trip.  Dagg offers a likeable protagonist and relationships that feel real in their complexity, while compellingly evoking the atmosphere of the era of William Jennings Bryan and William McKinley.

Happy Independence Day!

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Saturday, July 02, 2011


INTO THE TRAP, by Craig Moodie (Roaring Brook 2011)(age 10-14).  Twelve-year-old Eddie Atwell lives on an island off the coast of Massachusetts and comes from a long line of lobstermen.  It's his ambition to become one  himself.  But when his father tears his rotator cuff and thieves steal their catch, they could lose everything...

When Eddie stumbles upon the thieves' lobster cache and encounters Briggs Fairfield -- a rich-kid off-islander runaway from the local sailing camp -- he decides that it's up to him to stop the poachers and save the Atwell livelihood.  Together, the pair hatch a plot to catch the thieves.  But will it be enough?  And what if they, themselves, are the ones caught?

INTO THE TRAP is an exciting adventure on the water: a terrific story of friendship, danger, and justice, with an engaging protagonist and thrills aplenty. 

Friday, July 01, 2011

Writers and Dinosaurs: Dianna Hutts Aston

Dianna Hutts Aston and "Candlesaurus"
Dianna Hutts Aston is the award-winning author of numerous picture books, including AN EGG IS QUIET and A SEED IS SLEEPY, both illustrated by Sylvia Long.  Her latest book is A BUTTERFLY IS PATIENT, also illustrated by Sylvia Long. 

Click here for a 2006 interview with Aston and Long.

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