I recently claimed that Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs was my favorite dinosaur book and that remains true. Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems (Hyperion, $16.99) is a close second; although, arguably, this book is more about Reginald von Hoobie-Doobie than it is about dinosaurs. Reginald von Hoobie-Doobie. I defy you to say his name without at least cracking a smile, or snorting just a little bit. I read this book to a group of kids ranging from about 8 to 15, which is a tough crowd to find a book for, and they could not stop laughing. I could barely stop laughing. Reginald von Hoobie-Doobie. Classic. Anyway, Edwina is a lovely dinosaur, who wears a nice hat and always has a kind word for everybody. Everyone loves her. Except Reginald von Hoobie-Doobie. He KNOWS that dinosaurs are extinct and he sets out on an elaborate campaign to convince the town that Edwina SHOULD NOT be living there, or Living anywhere for that matter. Poor Reginald von Hoobie-Doobie. Everyone is so fond of Edwina that they don’t bother to pay attention. He needs a sympathetic ear. Fortunately for him, Edwina the dinosaur, who really is quite lovely, lives in his town. She’s the only one who takes the time to listen to his rather Persuasive and Loud explanation for why dinosaurs are, in fact, extinct. This book is by far my favorite of Willems’s books, which is saying quite a lot. The pauses in this story are perfect, especially the terrible moment when Edwina discovers the truth about dinosaurs. What will she do? What will she say? What has Reginald von Hoobie-Doobie done?
Surely you don’t think I’m going to ruin this for you.
While I don’t have exact statistics, it’s pretty safe to say that the Christmas books still significantly outnumber the Hanukkah books. A few years ago, when I was working at another children’s bookstore, a woman saw the Fancy Nancy Christmas book and was severely disappointed. She and her family were Jewish. Her daughter loved Fancy Nancy, but the existence of a Fancy Nancy Christmas book, even if the mother didn’t buy it herself, still made a statement about Nancy’s religious affiliations and that alienated her. Many popular book characters do have their own Christmas volume, Nancy, George, Judy Moody, Olivia. The list goes on. That’s why, this year, it was so nice to see Jane Yolen, Mark Teague, and Blue Sky Press release two holiday volumes: How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? AND How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas? ($16.99 each) The structure for the text is similar to all the other “How Do Dinosaurs” books. The book sets up several bad behavior possibilities and then resolves with a string of good behaviors. The illustrations are what really make this series. The dinosaurs all live in rather suburban settings with two human parents. Small enough to live in houses, the dinosaurs are much bigger than the parents and implicitly reflect the enormous havoc even the smallest children can cause. The dinosaurs’ behavior is so outlandish that it’s humorous, but there is a toddler truth to everything they do: “On Christmas Eve, does a dinosaur sleep? Does he go up to bed without making a peep?” (modeling good behavior) “Or does he sneak out to check what’s to see?” (addressing bad behavior). The Hanukkah book sold out in our store before I had a chance to gather quotations, but it follows a similar pattern. For such prescriptive books, this series is quite fun and whether or not kids actually learn any behavioral lessons, they’ll still enjoy reading the books.
Also new this year is Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko (Knopf, $16.99), in which the child narrator joyously celebrates the dual traditions in her family. Her parents participate in their respective holidays, but also cross-over and actively engage with each other’s. I believe Seth Cohen immortalized Chrismakkuh back in 2003 and now we finally have a picture book that reflects both traditions. In the back of the book, there is a timeline of holidays from a variety of cultural traditions that occur throughout the year.
One of the things I appreciate about our bookstore is that most of the picture books are organized by subject. Sometimes it can be tricky to find a book, but it encourages the staff members to become acquainted with content. In addition, when customers come in looking for books about “trains” or “dogs”, we can easily point them to a section for them to browse. “Dinosaurs” are a popular request and as you might suspect there is no end of fiction and non-fiction in this subject. My personal favorite story about dinosaurs is Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs, written by Ian Whybrow and illustrated by Adrian Reynolds (Dragonfly, $6.99). This is a UK title, but it is readily available in the US. Harry finds an old box of dinosaur toys in the attic. With his grandmother’s help, and much to his teenage sister’s disgust, he cleans the dinosaurs off and carries them around in a plastic bucket. Harry is a careful researcher and anoints all the dinosaurs with their proper scientific names. The text is cute, but it’s the illustrations that really make this book. The dinosaurs all have individual personalities and they are perpetually delighted with the adventures that Harry takes them on. They mimic his own emotional response to the world — scowling at Harry’s older sister and (spoiler!) expressing fear and anxiety when they get lost. Reynolds has perfectly captured the imaginative world that children create with their toys and has sprinkled in plenty of humor to amuse adult readers. Don’t forget to spend some time studying the endpapers, too!