"Can you fathom a time when almost no one in the world knew what a dinosaur looked like?" Barbara Kerley and Brian Selznick can--and it was a time when people used words like "fathom" a lot, about 150 years ago. This author-illustrator team became experts on the subject, delving deeply into the life of Victorian artist Waterhouse Hawkins, the first person to ever summon up, sketch, mold, and fabricate these ancient giants into full-size models.
The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, presented in breathlessly earnest chapbook style ("A True Dinosaur Story in Three Ages"), follows the life of Hawkins from his early fossil studies to the first iguanodon that he extrapolates into existence for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The story then follows his subsequent victories and defeats at home and abroad: a triumphantly unorthodox New Year's Eve dinner party with the fathers of paleontology; the unveiling of Dinosaur Island; Boss Tweed's scuttling of a planned Paleozoic Museum in Central Park, and the destruction of years of Hawkins's work in the process.
And the story is all true, although this veracity does make the pacing a bit clunky in spots. Then again, Kerley and Selznick have researched their hero with meticulous care (check out the copious endnotes), so perhaps only Hawkins himself can be blamed for leading a life that didn't always progress in perfect dramatic form. Overshadowing the narrative, though, are Selznick's stately, ghostly illustrations--of towering megalosaurs and Hawkins shuffling about with cane and top hat--which more than make up the difference. (Ages 9 to 12) --Paul Hughes
From Publishers Weekly
One look at this amazing-but-true picture book introducing the little-known artist Hawkins and his dreams of dinosaurs, and kids may well forget about Jurassic Park. As a child growing up in 19th-century London, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins discovered his passion: drawing and sculpting animal figures, especially prehistoric dinosaurs. His artistic talent and his goal--to build life-size models of dinosaurs envisioned from scientific fossils--led him to work with noted anatomist Richard Owen and complete a special commission from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, an installation of dinosaur statues, much of which still stands in contemporary Sydenham, England. During the project, Hawkins courted the scientific community by hosting a lavish New Year's Eve dinner party inside his life-size model of an iguanodon (the bill of fare is reproduced on the final page). Selznick (The Houdini Box, see p. 94) builds to the dramatic moment by showing readers a peek at giant reptilian toes through a parted curtain. Kerley (Songs of Papa's Island) leads readers into further exploration of Hawkins by presenting copious but never dull details of the stages of his life and works, including efforts in the U.S., thwarted by Boss Tweed. Throughout, she suffuses her text with a contagious sense of wonder and amazement. Selznick enthusiastically joins the excitement with his intricate compositions, capturing Hawkins's devotion to his art and depicting the dapper man with wild white hair as a spirited visionary and showman. The elegant design on tall pages gives the dinosaur models their due from various perspectives, and scenery of the period additionally grounds the work in historic context. Extensive author and illustrator notes denote the extensive (and fun) research both undertook for this extraordinary volume. Ages 6-up.
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