The Dinosaurs
of Waterhouse Hawkins

written by Barbara Kerley
illustrated by Brian Selznick

Barbara Kerley's The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins
illustrated by Brian Selznick

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 7-12

The man who showed what dinosaurs looked like

In the mid-19th century, London was abuzz with dinosaurs.

Fragmentary fossils had been found. Archaeologists were going about the work of comparing the bone parts to living animals in order to understand their purpose.

But it seemed no one was asking a particularly obvious and kid-like question:

What did dinosaurs look like?

Nobody, that is, besides big kid Waterhouse Hawkins. Review continues.

cropped image

An artist who'd spent his life drawing and sculpting the animals around him, he hungered to re-create these animals that were no longer around.

Working with scientist Richard Owen, Hawkins translated fossil into form, hypothesizing what the first dinosaur discoveries would have looked like. (Think iguanodon, megalosaurus and pterodactyl.)

First came drawings. Then small models. Then the life-sized dinosaur such as you might see in a museum today.

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins

The trick to nailing a picture book biography of an adult is to relate to the child in him. Kerley and Selznick do this marvelously, depicting the white-haired Hawkins as a big kid who can't stop thinking about dinosaurs and wants to share that interest with everybody.

The first illustration features Waterhouse walking distractedly to his London studio, imagined dinosaurs swirling in the air about him. The next two paintings mirror each other: young Waterhouse drawing with wonder the animals that fill the space around him, and adult Waterhouse doing the same with fossils.

Illustrator Selznick won a 2002 Caldecott Honor for his work. (Webmaster's note: Selznick won the big Caldecott in 2008 illustrating and authoring a fictional work about similar single-minded obsession, in The Invention of Hugo Cabret.)

Kerley effectively conveys Hawkins' desire to be known and respected for his one-of-a-kind work, taking us from triumph, to tragedy, and back to triumph.

The book is aimed at an older reading crowd, capable of chapter books, but The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins is much richer for the illustrations; what better way, after all, to convey the work of a man dedicated to helping us better understand dinosaurs by allowing us to see them!

More reviews of Caldecott books.

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More of Steve's reviews.

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