In 1853, almost no one knew what a dinosaur looked like. No one had ever mounted a complete dinosaur skeleton, and who could be expected to imagine what these strange creatures would have looked like with muscles, skin, teeth, eyes, tails, and feet all in their proper places from just a heap of bones? This engaging children’s book is the story of the Victorian artist who, with the help of renowned scientist Richard Owen, would bring dinosaurs to life for the people around him.
The story connects Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’ early love of drawing and sculpting animals as a child with the career he built as an adult of designing, building, and lecturing about dinosaurs. In extremely readable prose, Barbara Kerley describes the process Owen and Hawkins used to decide what the dinosaurs probably looked like, as well as the method Hawkins used to translate those designs into his life-size statues.
Although this is a rather long story for a four-year-old, it is full of interesting anecdotes, such as the New Year’s Eve party Waterhouse Hawkins held inside his model Iguanodon, the massive celebration that marked the début of the dinosaur models at the Crystal Palace in London in 1854, and the way Boss Tweed shut down Hawkins’ attempt to build similar models to put on display in Central Park in New York. All beautifully illustrated by Brian Selznick, who based many of his illustrations on a rare scrapbook containing photographs and original drawings of the models that may have been created by Waterhouse Hawkins himself.
Perhaps the bit that I liked the most is the fact that the dinosaurs Waterhouse Hawkins created can still be seen today in Crystal Palace Park in Sydenham. Can anyone say road trip?