"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 [via]