Monday, August 12, 2013

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins
by Barbara Kerley
Illustrated by Brian Selznick
Scholastic Press, 2001
2014 Bluestem Nominee
Audience:  Elementary School
ISBN:  9780439114943
Publication Date:  January 1, 2001

Waterhouse Hawkins dreamed of dinosaurs and making them come alive to everyone.  With the help of famed scientist Richard Owen, Waterhouse created life-size models of extinct dinosaurs using only a few bones.  He was eccentric and daring and passionate.  But a trip to America in the late 1800's had him questioning his dream as his models were destroyed by vandals.  Not only is the story moving, but the illustrations hold so much emotion and depth that many readers will spend more time pouring over them than reading the text.  This is a fitting tribute to the man that brought dinosaurs to life.

Brian Selznick's illustrations really do overshadow the text, which is likely why this book received a Caldecott Honor.  The dinosaurs are drawn in their various stages of creation, and wonderful attention is paid to the destruction and how low that made Waterhouse feel.  Also, as Selznick writes in his ending note, he incorporated many small details like the borders and the book plate drawing from the original notebook of Waterhouse Hawkins.  This is a wonderful example of how powerful illustrations can be in retelling a story and why illustrations are not just for simple children's picture books.

The story itself is also incredible.  Waterhouse Hawkins used few bones and fossils coupled with modern animal skeletons to design a dinosaur.  While it is true that many of his designs were wrong, he was able to capture the size of the dinosaurs and make them into something real.  He was the visionary that first dared to recreate something that has been gone thousands and thousands of years.  And to think that some small minded bully destroyed years worth of work is just tragic, but imagine was could be found under the soil in Central Park!  There might be a fictional story there.  I should file that idea away for a rainy day.

I do like The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins as a Bluestem Nominee.  It is informative and beautiful and will capture readers.  Plus the subject matter is a real crowd pleaser.  This might even make my top three.

Please share this book with any young reader than can't get enough dinosaurs, because we owe everything to Waterhouse Hawkins.

Happy Reading!


  1. I just got the a dvd or cd of this to review...and I thought of you. :)

  2. That's funny because I feel like I had already read this book and I wonder if I reviewed it earlier. That or I read it during my must-read-everything-by-Brian-Selznick phase!