For children swept up in dinosaur daze


June 11, 1993|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

They've started saving for the sneakers. They've memorized the "only studio-authorized" magazine. They've lugged the lunch box everywhere.

And now, the moment they've been waiting for: "Jurassic Park" opens today after the most frenzied marketing blitz this side of the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, the movie probably is too violent for many of the kids hopped up on the hype. Even the movie's director, Steven Spielberg, says he won't let his 8-year-old see it "for a couple of years."

So how do you try to mollify kids who are too old for Barney but too young to watch the flesh-ripping tyrannosaur munch an attorney for lunch? Good luck. You won't be able to silence the whiners, but you might be able to distract them for a while with a few of the fine dinosaur books out on the market.

* One of the newest, and definitely among the most attractive, is "Dinosaurs Encore" by Patricia Mullins (Willa Perlman Books/HarperCollins, $15, ages 3-7).

Using torn- and cut-paper collages, Ms. Mullins re-creates everything from a 90-foot-long diplodocus to a rooster-sized compsognathus. In addition to being beautiful, this is an excellent beginner's guide.

Questions introduce 10 different varieties: "Which dinosaurs would thunder louder than a wild stampede? A troop of triceratops. Which one would eat more than four hungry horses? Stegosaurus."

There are a couple of gate-fold pages to capture the colossal creatures, and a glossary in the back with quick facts and figures about each of the 10 featured dinos.

* Another book high in visual appeal is "Dinosaur Valley" by Mitsuhiro Kurokawa (Chronicle Books, $14.95, ages 6-10). It's actually two books in one.

The first part depicts a slice of what life might have been like for the dinosaurs who roamed what is now the Red Deer River badlands region in western Canada 70 million years ago. It follows a female orodromeus (a small, plant-eating dinosaur) from the time she lays her eggs through her chicks' adolescence.

We see her hiding her brood from a Tyrannosaurus rex, and keeping the babies out of the way as a herd of chasmosaurs stampedes past. Mr. Kurokawa's paintings are lush and vibrant, and he isn't afraid to dress up some of the species in bright colors, explaining: "Like some birds and reptiles today, dinosaurs probably displayed a wealth of colors and patterns."

After the gentle orodromeus mother takes us on a tour of the valley, the book opens up with a gate-fold page that gives a behind-the-scenes look at an expansive dinosaur dig. Better editing would have made the follow-the-numbers descriptions easier to follow.

That begins the second part of the book, which gives hard-core fans more facts, figures and graphics about the dinosaurs introduced in the first part. Because of its two-part approach, this book will take a 6-year-old a long time to outgrow.

* "Let's Go Dinosaur Tracking!" by Miriam Schlein, pictures by Kate Duke (HarperCollins, $14.95, ages 6-9) takes readers on an expedition to find out how Roland Bird must have felt when he discovered dinosaur tracks in Texas in 1938.

A lot is learned in a short amount of time, and some of the clues will stump grown-ups who weren't fossil freaks growing up.

* Preschoolers through beginning readers can share "My Visit to the Dinosaurs," by Aliki (Harper Trophy paperback, $4.50, ages 4-8). First published in 1969, the revised edition came out in 1985. So it isn't state of the art. It calls diplodocus the longest dinosaur at over 90 feet. Yet recent excavations in New Mexico have yielded information about the seismosaurus, said to be 130-160 feet long.

Still, Aliki is a master of nonfiction for this age group, and she has several other related books -- all a bargain, in Harper Trophy paperbacks for $4.50 -- worth checking out: "Dinosaur Bones," "Dinosaurs Are Different," "Fossils Tell of Long Ago," and "Wild and Woolly Mammoths."

* Speaking of mammoths, the paperback release of "Mik's Mammoth," by Roy Gerrard (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $4.95, ages 5-8) deserves mention, even though it's about cave people, who arrived about 25 million years after dinosaurs became extinct.

In captivating verse, Mr. Gerrard tells the story of Mik, a cowardly cave man who is ridiculed by his clan. ("The thought of fighting made him droop/So other members of the group/Considered him a nincompoop.")

Left behind when the tribe goes off in search of better hunting grounds, Mik comes to befriend a baby mammoth. Together they prove quite capable of not only surviving, but of advancing civilization.

Next week: Dinosaur books for older readers.

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