Friday, September 14, 2012

Battle of the Dinosaur Bones: Othniel Charles Marsh vs Edward Drinker Cope, by Rebecca L. Johnson

Pre-Order Now on
Pre-Order Now on
The infamous "Bone Wars" refers to the period in American history from the 1870's through to the 1890's when two paleontologists, Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, engaged in a bitter rivalry to discover the most dinosaur fossils (each working at the expense of the other, often using bribery and theft) and become the nation's leading paleontologist. The rivalry was dramatic, bitter and legendary. It also led to some of the most important discoveries about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures.

Rebecca L. Johnson's new book, The Battle of the Dinosaur Bones, presents the Marsh-Cope feud in an easy to follow, well-illustrated book that would be appropriate for children (and adults) of all ages. As someone who lives with an armchair paleontologist and is surrounded by dozens of dinosaur books all the time, I must say I LOVED this book. I don't find dinosaurs quite as intrinsically interesting as my partner Mike does, but I've always been completely fascinated with the characters of Marsh and Cope. I love how their rivalry partially started when Cope incorrectly assembled the fossil remains of the Elasmosaurus and put its head on the end of its tail instead of its neck (see below). Marsh saw it and ridiculed his colleague ruthlessly, sparking a professional animosity between the two men that reminds me of the rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.

Which reminds me...

Why isn't this a movie? I'm still amazed that the infamous "Bone Wars" hasn't been made into a major motion picture. It would make a great movie! It's already been the subject of books, graphic novels, a card game (!) and a PBS documentary called "Dinosaur Wars," but it needs to be a movie. Seriously. Just look at these two. So cinematic! I could picture them being played by David Bowie (circa The Prestige, when he played Tesla) and Paul Giamatti, no?


Oh, one tiny little point of order: 
At one point in the book, Johnson refers to the Bay of Fundy, where Marsh discovered early fossils, as "in northeastern Canada." It's not. Trust me. That's actually where I grew up and it's in eastern Canada for sure, but it's absolutely not in the "north" by any means. A small point.

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

You May Also Like:

Monday, September 3, 2012

Great Back-to-School Books for the Little Ones!

Do you have a little one going back to school this week? Or maybe starting for the first time? Here are a few books for young readers that deal with the ups and downs of back to school.

The Kissing Hand , by Audrey Penn (illustrations by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak)

Chester Raccoon is ready to start school but he's a little worried he'll miss his mother so she gives him the gift of her kiss to last the whole day long. It's sweet and tender and beautifully illustrated. A classic for a reason!

Llama Llama Misses Mama, by Anna Dewdney

Llama Llama's mama has gotten him all ready for his first day of school. They've met the teacher. They've looked around the classroom. They've talked to the other children. But now it's time for Mama to leave and Llama Llama is sad. Will she remember to come back for him?

Franklin Goes to School, by Paulette Bourgeois (illustrations by Brenda Clark)

Franklin is excited to start school...until he has to actually get on the bus. This book was a perennial favourite in my daycare classrooms as children faced their own fears about starting "big school."

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat: The Art of Dr. Seuss, by Caroline M. Smith

A few years ago (okay, probably closer to a decade now) there was an installation of the artwork of Dr. Seuss at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, near where I live. It was close to Christmas time and--if I'm remembering it correctly--it was around the same time that Ron Howard's movie version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas was in theatres. The entire bottom floor of the museum was transformed into a sort of Whoville, with murals large and small on the walls and various whimsical statues throughout. I was enchanted. That was the moment I became a fan of Dr. Seuss as an adult. I had certainly been a fan as a child, and I still enjoyed the Boris Karloff Grinch every year on TV, but seeing those illustrations and sculptures made me a true fan. I loved the black-and-white or limited colour sketches that were the earliest incarnations of characters that I knew and loved. I loved seeing the process of early sketches being turned into fully formed books. I loved the unabashed whimsy that was Dr. Seuss' trademark.

This was exactly the feeling I got when I opened Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat. The illustrations are gorgeous and inspiring and imagination-bending. The colours are fantastic and magical (I viewed it on my desktop computer instead of my e-reader for full effect). The artwork, much of which I don't think I've ever seen before, made me feel I was getting to know Dr. Seuss on a level I never before understood. 

But--for better or for worse--it's not just the artwork that reveals "the cat behind the hat." This book explores aspects of Ted Geisel that I'm not sure I wanted to know. His failed attempt at an adult book with cartoon nudity inspired by The Rape of the Sabine Women, for example. Or his long history with Standard Oil. Or his racist depiction of Japanese Americans, despite his vocal stance against racial bigotry. I know he wasn't perfect, nor is it reasonable to expect that he--or any hero--would be. It's just...I'm not sure I was ready for the curtain to be pulled back on this one.
My best advice? Buy the book. Treat it like a coffee table book if you prefer (or as inspiring desktop wallpaper if viewing it on your computer). Drink in the gorgeous illustrations and immerse yourself in whimsy. And, if you're feeling a little curious and a little brave, read a little more about the real Dr. Seuss. He was fascinating, if at times troubling. And if, like me, you find the details of his life too hard to resolve with your childhood memories of Green Eggs and Ham, simply go back to the artwork. It's worth it for that alone.

I should point out that I'm in no way implying that Dr. Seuss was a horrible person, just that he was, well, a person. Reading this book was a little like finding out that my kindergarten teacher uses the bathroom. Not awful, just hard to believe.

You might also like:

Dr. Seuss - Oh the Places You'll Go! Wall Quote (All About Vinyl)

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, by Lucy Knisley

Lucy Knisley's graphic (as in "illustrated" not as in "explicit") food memoir is Persepolis meets The Food Network. The self-professed daughter of two foodies, Ms. Knisley grew up in the kitchens of New York--at home, in restaurants and in gourmet shops--as her extended family raised her, one flavour at a time. The charming illustrations reflect her childhood memories perfectly, like comic strips in the Sunday paper filled with tales of roasted lamb and profiteroles. But they are also used to describe some very sophisticated recipes (I didn't even know I could make my own chai tea from scratch!) in a way that is fun and accessible. It's the perfect medium to describe how Lucy Knisley feels about food--it's filled with childhood nostalgia but also with sophisticated gourmet wonder.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen does not so much make me think of my own childhood (I mean, I definitely have food memories--who doesn't?) as it does make me think of the childhood I'm providing to my daughter. It makes me want to expand my child's food experience and sense of culinary wonder.

Hit the jump for more, including Magda's take and an adorable picture of the author!