Review of the Day: Dinotrux by Chris Gall
Once in a while a picture book author will mix dinosaurs in with another popular genre. The logic behind this is clear. If dinos sell and trains sell, why not write something like All Aboard the Dinotrain? As a result, dinosaurs have been sucessfully mixed together with everything from bedtime stories (How do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight) to ballet (T. Rex at Swan Lake). One mixed-pair that hasn’t really happened before, as far as I know, is trucks and dinosaurs. I can just see various authors pondering the possibilities. Would the dinosaurs drive the trucks? Would the trucks be designed with different dinosaurs painted onto them? But where’s the story? I mean the only way dinosaurs could really be combined with trucks would be if they were . . . were . . . were actually physically COMBINED with them! Trust author/illustrator Chris Gall to make that final leap in logic. His Dinotrux strikes a slightly younger chord than his previous picture book outings (Dear Fish and There’s Nothing to Do on Mars), but kids and parents of all ages will take pleasure in the sheer amount of thought and creativity the man had to work up to come up with names like Dumploducus or Rollodon.
They were here long ago. When the world was a vast wild place, dinotrux ruled. They are the ancestors of the gentle benign trucks we know today, and their ways were harsh and strange. If a caveman wasn’t running for his life from the dangerous (and incredibly fast) Semisaur then he was trying to avoid a Cementosaurus’s smelly leavings. It was the world of the Craneosaurus, the Blacktopadon, and the ever terrible Tyrannosaurus Trux. Of course that was before the great flash of light and terrible storm. Dinotrux rusted and sank into the mud, while a few managed to escape southward into warmer climates. Since that time they have domesticated, and the remains of the old Dinotrux are dug up at the oddest of times. Now only one things is certain. Dinotrux are always on the job. “And they never, EVER quit!”
The trux themselves are rather clever. Gall has figured out the logistics between combining the reptilian with the industrial. He has considered such details as how a Craneosaurus or a Garbageadon would eat. And I don’t think any adult who sees the two-page spread of brown Deliveradons asleep in a lazy pile won’t instantly think of UPS and late deliveries. Gall clearly studied up on both dinos and actual trucks to get the right feel for his mechanical monstrosities.
There’s a lot of repetition in the pictures as well. The three primary cavepeople who appear in the past are reimagined as contemporary humans when we see one of the final shots in the book. The endpapers too show some nice differences between now and then. On one page you will see trucks as normal, dull, standard entities, sitting without much flair or show. On the opposite page those trucks appear once again, only now in their newly dinotruxed state. Kids will have quite a bit of fun matching one truck to another and then, presumably, finding the dino-like similarities in trucks in the real world.
I think this might mark the first time I’ve ever seen a cheeky publication page. Sometimes a book’s design will incorporate its serial number in an amusing fashion, but this was the very first time I looked to see what the illustrations were made of only to read, “The text was set in Cafeteria Black, and the display type is hand-lettered. The artwork for this book was created using bearskins and stone knives.” Below those words you can see a caveman carving the Little, Brown and Company logo into the side of a boulder. If we can assume that Mr. Gall hasn’t changed his style any then it this book could be a mix of engravings, paint, and ink. It’s hard to know, though. At the very least the pictures in Dinotrux are filled with movement, action, and shifting perspectives. There’s a black, almost dusty fog that lies over the prints, giving this prehistoric world the feeling that it’s engulfed in truck-tastic soot and smoke. Believable.
The text is also rhythmic and bouncy. You can’t help but like a sentence that says “they shed their teeth and their toenails and their misbehaving ways.” Interestingly Gall has chosen to pepper his pictures with exclamations by the routinely fleeing cavepeople. Some of these work better than others, suggesting that they were a last minute additions. For example, while the Caveman saying “Yuck” when trapped in dinotrux muck makes sense, the next page shows two cavepeople cooking a fish with hugely worried looks on their faces. The text below them reads, “Let’s have a barbecue!” which is a doggone cheery thing to see under two such worried souls.
Craziest argument you’re going to hear when this book is looked at? It’s twofold. I suspect that some parents will believe that this book will twist their young children’s minds, causing them to think that dinotrux really used to exist millions of years ago. And maybe that’ll be true for the odd child here and there. Fun fact: They’ll get over it. Seriously. Kids are savvy critters, and a lot of them are going to accept this book for what it is: fun. Besides, do kids read Babar and then assume that all elephants wear spats? I don’t think so. The second objection whipping about in the future? I can actually hear someone saying that this book promotes the mistaken belief that dinosaurs and cavemen existed at the same time. It’s patently ridiculous since there are no dinosaurs even in the book. Zippo, zero, zilch. I mean, these are probably going to be the same parents who let their kids watch The Flintstones, and isn’t THAT just a hotbed of historically accurate fact finding? So if you’ve objections on either counts here, lay them to rest. I can’t acknowledge either.
As strange as it sounds, this book may act as a perfect complement to Jon Scieszka’s Truck Town series. In both cases the artists working on the books had to figure out the logistics involved in adding eyeballs and personalities to welded bits of steel and rubber. And Dinotrux is perfect for that kid who wants trucks and dinosaurs just a little more dangerous than usual. It’s not the usual dino-laden title out there, a fact that will definitely serve Dinotrux well in the future. Fine, frightening, fun, fantastic fare.
On shelves June 1st.
- Of course you heard that this book was already optioned as a CGI film, yes? Makes sense to me. I’m just surprised they haven’t worked in a television cartoon series as well. Movie commenters (here and here and here and here just to name a very few) think it’s Transformers-like. Which, to be perfectly frank, didn’t even occur to me when reading the book. Probably because they don’t… y’know… transform or anything. Though as this Smithsonian blogger points out (the Smithsonian Magazine has bloggers?!) the dinobots do come to mind.
- If you can’t wait until the film comes out, have a gander at this book trailer Gall cooked up for the title. It’s worth it just to hear the inhuman roar of the dinotruck at the end.
And by roar, I of course mean "beep beep".
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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