In June, in response to requests from teachers and librarians, the first bunch of non-fiction hardbacks from Dinosaur Publications appeared – more will follow. A good moment, we thought, to take a closer look at Dinosaurs.
They’ve come a long way since the first small, narrow books about Desmond the Dinosaur appeared in 1968. The range has expanded, the books have got bigger, there are tie-ins with the National Trust and the British Tourist Authority; but the whole operation still has the spirit of its cottage industry beginnings.
Dinosaur’s strengths lie in non-fiction. The ‘What to Expect Books (Going to the Doctor, Visiting the Dentist, etc.) are exactly right for talking about present and future experiences with very young children. Having an Eye Test has babies, teddy bears and tots subjected to all manner of investigations; My Babysitter and My Childminder accept that feeling sad is part of the experience. But what of the newest title? ‘At last, a book on potty training.’ If this is another example of something we didn’t know we needed, then No More Nappies by Maryann Macdonald does not fill the gap very well. About Anna. it’s not much good for boys and the illustrations by Helen Herbert are unattractive. Better just to talk about it
Clare and the Mop by Robin Stemp is a ‘latch-key child story. Consolation for being alone in the house appears in the idea of making friends with the mop in the broom cupboard. A better ‘problem’ story is Althea’s George and the Baby, an old favourite, which gives a dog’s eye view (literally) of being ‘displaced’ by a new baby.
Althea’s Nature Series is new this year (in hardback and paperback). One of the first four titles, Caterpillars to Butterflies explains the life cycle with unfussy clarity and vivid detailed pictures. Animals at your Feet deals with readily accessible creatures and while being properly ‘scientific’ does not overburden with facts. The language is easily understandable and its spontaneity and enthusiasm encourage the reader to observe and investigate.
Althea is good at explaining things to young children (Making a Car, Building a House) but in Making a Book the concepts and language are difficult: ‘The words are stored on a computer disc’; ‘words can be set’. It also ends up giving the impression that books are written by machines! But useful for older children, especially in a book-making project (see page 25).
Dinosaur’s other major offering, the Wingate Series ‘illustrated books for everyone’ is a real hotchpotch of topics seemingly arrived at by a combination of the enthusiasms of the Dinosaur team and friends, and commissions from the National Trust. This makes it interesting but unpredictable in approach and quality.
How does your Garden Grow? is well illustrated and is one of the ’50 Best Produced Books of 1979′. The facts are ‘checked by an eminent taxonomist’, but despite the title, it all comes on the author’s terms. There are lots of facts, few ideas.
Buildings and Backgrounds is better. The author does not cram and seems at home with the topic (is that the secret?). He asks questions, gives ideas and enthuses. He also judges – picture windows and added porches are definitely frowned on! Nevertheless, a series always worth watching – new this month, How the Countryside was Made by Gordon Winter, certainly sounds interesting and useful. Worth a careful look.
No More Nappies
Maryann Macdonald, ill. Helen Herbert, 0 85 122 208 0. 60p
Clare and the Mop
Robin Stemp, ill. Isabel Pearce, 0 85 122 209 9, 60p
Caterpillars to Butterflies
Althea, ill. Maureen Galvani, 0 85 122 205 6, 60p 0 85122 232 3, £1.60
Animals at your Feet
Althea, ill, by the author, 0 85122 223 4, 60p 0 85122 230 7, £1.60
Making a Book
Althea, ill. Tim Hunkin, 0 85122 180 7, 60p
How does your Garden Grow?
Jean Ellenby, ill. Elsie Wrigley, 0 85122 178 5. 65p
Buildings and Backgrounds
Vernon Gibberd, ill. by the author, 0 85122 173 4, 65p
Note: Some Althea series titles are available in large-format hardback editions from Evans.