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Sunday, 19 February 2017

Tom and the Island of Dinosaurs

Author and Illustrator: Ian Beck
Publisher: First published 1993 through Doubleday, featured edition Picture Corgi, Random House 1995

For me this book has all the ingredients of a perfect children's picture book. Firstly (and in no order of priority), plenty of adventure, excitement and a good rescue mission storyline. Secondly, sumptuous illustrations with a lot of texture, depth of perspective and landscapes that feel very epic. Thirdly, whimsical characters- a boy who commands his own hot air balloon (and in the subsequent sequel, a raft), a girl on a desert island saving dinosaurs, and a grandfather, living in a lighthouse and ready to listen to his grandson's stories. As plot devices go, Ian Beck has created a plethora, all pitched beautifully at the curious minds of children; at every turn there's a new idea to fuel the fantasy, a volcano erupting, magic flowers to attract dinosaurs, a struggling baby dinosaur to help. What this achieves is a very gender neutral book, with plenty of fixes in the story to interest across gendered reading norms. My daughter (3) for example, loves the idea of a message in a bottle, the rescue itself, and dinosaur protector and architect of the plan, being a female lead. My son (5), loves the exploding volcanoes and the idea of character Tom, braving the elements alone to perform a daring rescue.  

As I said in my review of Benedict Blathwayt's The Little Red Train series, it's rare to find in children's literature, a writer who writes as well as he illustrates, but in Ian Beck we have that very thing. Beck uses lots of hatching techniques, mainly through exposed cross hatching, dipping and ticking penwork to create very textured, layered pictures. He is generous with his picture-per-page ratio and there are plenty of big double spreads in this book that wow; my children particularly like the dramatic volcano erupting page in this title. Beck has a real talent for drawing sea, cloud and smoke especially, which offers a lot of depth and movement to the page, his work is really captivating. 

To find fault with this title I would suggest that the type-font or type set of the book is dated, I think it's written in Times New Roman, which I find hard to read personally. And while I like the pace of the book, as the story always grips my children, there is a lot going on, and such a complicated plot in a very compact exposition, might be confusing to some. The plot is a little frenetic, very fantastical and takes a confident reader to interpret which sections of the narrative to emphasise. When 7 year old Alf read Tom and the Island of Dinosaurs to his siblings a few days ago, it sounded like there was an exclamation mark after every sentence end, as to him, every moment in the book was remarkable and worthy of expression. (And I would agree). 

In all, a hugely enjoyable book, perfectly matched at the 3-6 year old market, and I'm sure it's inspired many a dream in our house; my middle two children have certainly role played at saving dinosaurs (with the carpet as the sea) following reading this book.  

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