Thursday, June 01, 2017

Father Knows Best: Dad and the Dinosaur by Gennifer Choldenko

Nicholas was afraid of the dark outside his door where the giant bugs lived, and the underside of manhole covers.

His dad was not afraid of anything.

Little Nick wants to be like his Dad, brave and daring, and he has a secret that helps him be that way.

I needed a dinosaur.

Nick has a little toy T. Rex that gives him the fearless nature he desires. When he clutches it in his hand, he feels the power of a dinosaur within.

When Little Nick had his dinosaur in his pocket, he was just as brave as Big Nick.

With his little plastic talisman in his pocket Little Nick courageously climbs to the top of the rock wall. At a a soccer game, he tucks it inside his sock and charges fearlessly down the field, scoring a goal against the rival team's goalie, nicknamed The Gorilla.

But after the game, Nick discovers that his dinosaur is gone. He searches the field until Mom makes him leave for home. Nick's not hungry at dinner, and when he goes to bed without his dinosaur under his pillow, even the dark in his own room seems full of fearful things like those giant bugs in the bushes and the octopus-tentacled terrors under the manhole.

And when Dad comes home late from work, he hears Nick, still twisting and turning in his bed.

"Bad dreams, buddy?" Dad asks quietly.

Nick whispered, "I lost my dinosaur.

He's the brave one. Not me."

"Let's go find him then," said Dad.

There are many things Dad could have said at that moment, sensible things, like "You can look for it in the morning," or "Don't be silly. It's just a plastic toy". But he didn't. What he said was the absolutely right thing at the right time, in Jennifer Choldenko's insightful salute to fatherhood, Dad and the Dinosaur (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2017).

In a late-night expedition that Dad describes only as "guy stuff" to Mom, Little Nick learns from Big Nick that all guys get scared sometimes, and that just goes with the territory. Newbery winner Gennifer Choldenko's sensitive narration tells the sweet story of what dads do best, and Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat's usually bold and avant garde style is muted in his warm illustrations of an ordinary Everyfamily, with more sober and ominous dark tones to evoke Nick's frightful imaginings. Santat also utilizes a huge, shadowy T. Rex overlay on his pages as a sort of reassuring spirit animal that confers a dose of courage when Nick needs it. As Publishers Weekly puts it in their starred review, "Dads get it... being brave takes work and ... a dinosaur." And having a good dad helps, too.

Gennifer Choldenko earned her Newbery Medal for Al Capone Does My Shirts (Tales from Alcatraz), (read my review of her complete Tales of Alcatraz novels here), and Dan Santat took his Caldecott for The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. (read review here).

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