Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nonfiction Review - How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland

Dinosaur mania continues to reign supreme around Casa de Kinser. Even as I type this, the kiddo is building a "jurassic island" in the living room, using the new dinosaur figures he bought as his souvenir from Disneyland (yes, my kid is such a dino freak that he even chooses to buy dino-themed toys from the happiest place on Earth). We cannot make it home from the library without first perusing the nonfiction shelves to see what new titles may have appeared, and dinos continue to be the favorite topic of dinner-time conversation, from Sprout's perspective at least.

So you might imagine that Mama scored a big hit when I brought home Jessie Hartland's nonfiction title How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum. I thought this book was going to be a bit of a stretch for Sprout, as it's cataloged in the juvenile nonfiction rather than the picture book section. It's also pretty text-intensive, but no matter - Sprout hung in through the whole thing, and has requested it multiple times as bedtime reading. There are nice bits of new vocabulary used here, but Hartland gives them plenty of context so even younger readers can interpret what she's trying to get across. That's a very nice touch, for my money, as it gives kids practice at puzzling out contextual cues, a critical skill in developing reading comprehension.

The nice thing about How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum is it's not just a dry recital of facts. When I remember nonfiction from my own youth, it was all pretty serious stuff - those authors were in it for communicating information, not for spicing things up with story and character and that kind of frivolity. But Hartland has a different approach. She's telling kids the story of a Diplodocus that was unearthed at what is now Dinosaur National Monument in northeastern Utah. We start out in the beginning, when Diplodocus was living, and discover the changes that happen to the environment after her death. Then Hartland brings in the humans who discover the bones of the Diplodocus - first a dinosaur hunter, then a paleontologist to confirm the find, then a group of excavators to begin looking for the rest of the skeleton. Each step of the way, a new spread discusses the role of the next set of experts to work on the Diplodocus, even as Hartland reinforces the steps that went before.

This is a really thorough overview of all the people involved in the process of bringing a dinosaur to the museum. What I appreciated most, aside from the care taken to describe the job of each individual group of specialists, was the illustrations. They are approachable and have high kid-appeal, and it's great that Hartland incorporates some diversity within her cast of characters. Granted, there could be more, but I appreciate that there was an effort to keep the people somewhat diverse.The experts aren't all middle-aged white men - there are women and people of color there too. Sprout thought it was cool that there's a female welder on one of the pages ("girls can do that job too!"). There are also some small touches of humor throughout, such as the Diplodocus being tickled by the feather duster, and problems that arise which need to be solved creatively.

How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum is just one of Jessie Hartland's nonfiction titles; similar books include How the Meteorite Got to the Museum and How the Sphinx Got to the Museum. These are great choices for homeschooling families, for classrooms and libraries. If you want to spark questions and get your kids thinking before an upcoming trip to a museum, check out this or Hartland's other titles. You might just find yourself surprised by how the dinosaur got where she is!

How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland, published by Blue Apple Books
Ages 6-10
Source: Library
Sample: "Here, rooting around the old river bed in 1923, is the Dinosaur Hunter. He has studied geology, pored over maps and books, and knows roughly where to look for dinosaur fossils. After searching and digging for months and months, he finds AN UNUSUALLY LARGE BONE in what today we call Utah."

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