Tuesday, October 10

The Extinct Files: My Science Project


by Wallace Edwards
Kids Can Press 2006

Ugh.

Sometimes a book hits you the wrong way out of the gate. For me it was the way the X in extinct was made larger on the cover (and title page) in an attempt toward clever wordplay on The X Files. That show went off the air four years ago, so I'm wondering what kid is going to get the reference. Then the cynical side of the brain wakes up and says "Ah, they're trying to hit the parents with the reference to sell the book." I should not be thinking things like this before cracking the spine.

The premise is that this is a facsimile of young Wally's science project. Or at least it would have been had it not been discovered by the DIA (Dinosaur Intelligence Agency) and commandeered before Wally could turn it in. Originally Wally's report was going to be about his iguana but in taking a photo he captured sight of a dinosaur outside his window and began sneaking out of his room at night to record evidence of his major scientific discovery. Along the way we learn that these nocturnal lizards are very similar to humans, just much larger and in colors and patterns no human has ever imagined on a dinosaur. Who knew there were dinosaurs that wore baseball caps backwards on their heads and played basketball? Or that they applied make-up with mops and owned vehicles?

Edwards uses two styles of illustrations; the vibrant acrylic paintings that represent Wally's photos and semi-crude colored pencil drawings to represent items caught in Wally's sketchbook. Given that the photos look too painterly and the drawings too skilled for a child I had a difficult time appreciating them. As we'll see, I'm probably not the best judge in this affair.

Throughout, Wally pencils in bad puns and gives the dinosaurs joke names (Groovysaurus) which underscores the seriousness of his discovery. His factual data includes information that cannot be gleaned from mere observation and the text generally reads on the whole like a joke. But at the end we are asked to accept that the report was serious, confiscated by the dinosaurs, leaving poor Wally with 'the dinosaur ate my homework' level of excuse.

I was willing to write this off as a miss but something was itching at the back of my brain. I've got a former expert on dinosaurs in the house, a mania she outgrew before second grade. In a final attempt to gauge just how off course I was I had her look the book over. She giggled, she smirked, she basically told me she thought it was funny. Now I was even more confused. I know this wasn't a book she would have picked up on her own -- she'd outgrown the picture book years ago -- and I feel certain that in her younger years she would have not been impressed with a joke dinosaur book when she had so many "factual" titles to choose from. But here she was, telling me otherwise. She especially liked the illustrations, which at one point I was torn between calling either "lurid" or "garish".

Further proof that adults aren't always the best judge of what kids may or may not like. It's no future classic is about all I can safely say. I think.
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