January 2002

Models of the prehistoric past

By Barbara Kerley
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Kids have always been fascinated by dinosaurs. And here's a book that proves it. In their inventive and well-researched biography, The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, Barbara Kerley (who is, according to the back cover, "an authoress of thrilling character") and Brian Selznick ("famous artist to Her Majesty the Queen") bring to life the work of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, the Victorian artist who was the first person to build life-size models of dinosaurs, much to the astonishment and delight of an admiring public. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert commissioned dinosaur models from Hawkins in 1853 for their art and science museum, the Crystal Palace.

Although new discoveries have rendered many of Hawkins' dinosaur models inaccurate, that hardly matters. Young readers will be fascinated by the story of his determination to share his passion for the past and the ways he went about it. And, thanks to Selznick's amazing illustrations based on on-site research, readers can see exactly how Hawkins worked. In a single two-page spread Selznick shows the scale of one of Hawkins' projects, depicting the creative process from first sketch to finished dinosaur a creature made of bricks, tiles and broken stones held together by cement.

Dinosaurs is as inventive as Hawkins himself. The book's design and illustrations playfully evoke the Victorian period, including a re-creation of a dinner party (complete with menu) inside an iguanodon model that Hawkins held for the foremost scientists of his day. With elaborate historical notes and ideas for further reading, Dinosaurs is sure to bring Hawkins back from obscurity into the admiring gaze of the public, which is exactly where he belongs.

Deborah Hopkinson's latest book for children is Under the Quilt of Night (Atheneum), illustrated by James Ransome.

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