Dinosaur Empire!

I’m still fairly new to graphic novels, but I couldn’t resist this first book in the Earth Before Us series by Abby Howard. Dinosaur Empire! takes fifth-grader Ronnie (and all of its readers) on a magical and informative journey through the Mesozoic Era.Dinosaur EmpireThe story begins as Ronnie is walking home after failing a quiz on dinosaurs. She is lamenting the fact that she has to retake the test the next day when she walks past retired paleontologist Miss Lernin’s house. Miss Lernin pops her head out of her recycling bin and offers to teach Ronnie about dinosaurs. All Ronnie has to do is climb into the recycling bin with her for an “immersive” lesson.

Because it’s a graphic novel, Ronnie jumps into the recycling bin without hesitation (yuck!). She discovers that the recycling bin is actually a Time Tunnel that will transport her and Miss Lernin back to dinosaur times. They travel using “Science Magic” (this magic also protects them from harm and lets them breathe underwater – I knew I should have studied science in university instead of music!).

And so begins their travels through the three main periods of the Mesozoic Era, with a few stops at Miss Lernin’s Learning Center along the way. They meet all of the dinosaurs I can name, and many, many I’ve never heard of!

Miss Lernin separates the dinosaurs they meet into sauropods and theropods, in addition to telling Ronnie their names. By the time Ronnie and Miss Lernin reach the “Early-ish, Almost Middle Cretaceous” Period, Ronnie is also pointing out which dinosaurs are sauropods and which are theropods.

I have to say, I LOVE Miss Lernin! If we all had the same passion for our chosen careers as she does, the world would be a happy and enthusiastic place. When she successfully teaches Ronnie the concept of phylogenetic trees, excitement screams from her fist-pump to her announcement that phylogenetic trees are awesome!

Miss Lernin doesn’t only show dinosaurs to Ronnie. At each stop in their journey, Miss Lernin also shows Ronnie the insects and mammals that exist at that time.

Ronnie’s reaction to insects is a lot like mine: When they hit the insects of the Late Jurassic period, Ronnie remarks, “Oh . . . sigh. Insects again.” Ever enthusiastic, Miss Lernin responds, “I think you mean ‘Hooray! Insects again!’ . . .” Just wonderful!

Every once in a while, the insects and mammals in Dinosaur Empire! jump in with a comment about what is happening. These little comments often made me laugh out loud as I was reading the book!

I received an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. We’ll be watching for the next book in the Earth Before Us series. What a great way to learn science! Dinosaur Empire! was a fabulous start to the series.

Abby Howard writes two online comics: Junior Scientist Power Hour and The Last Halloween. Monthly subscribers can follow her on Patreon.

Dinosaur Empire! will be released on August 1, 2017.

Have you read any great books lately?


Alex jumped at the chance to read Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier when he received it over the Christmas holidays. When his dad (half-jokingly) pointed out that he was on a restriction from comic books, Alex gleefully informed him that Ghosts is a graphic novel and not included in the comic book restriction. Alex then settled in to enjoy the book.ghostsAfter he finished, Alex quickly passed Ghosts along for me to read, and asked if we could find him everything else Ms. Telgemeier has written. I think he’s made it through all of her books already—he just doesn’t want to put them down!

In the opening pages of Ghosts, we meet Catrina (Cat) and her family. We learn that Cat’s younger sister, Maya, has cystic fibrosis, and that the family is moving to a new town that is supposed to be better for Maya’s health. Like every good preteen, Cat is miserable with the family’s decision, dislikes the new town, and spends much of the first few days with a frown (or similar unhappy expression) on her face.

Cat’s antipathy toward the new town (Bahia de la Luna) continues to grow as she begins to meet people and feels like everyone in town talks about ghosts as though they are real. In fact, all of the town’s residents celebrate Dia de los Muertos by having a big party “with the ghosts.”

Cat and Maya go on a “Ghost Tour” led by their neighbor’s son and discover the town’s secret—there really are ghosts in Bahia de la Luna. The Ghost Tour ends abruptly when a medical emergency hits.

Cat must then face her worries over Maya’s deteriorating health while adjusting to life in Bahia de la Luna on her own. As she makes friends and builds friendships in her new hometown, she also learns more about her own Mexican heritage, so that she begins to get excited about Dia de los Muertos as the day approaches. She needs one final push to help her decide whether to join the celebrations.

Ms. Telgemeier’s illustrations are phenomenal—showing Cat with a range of emotions on her face that could rival any preteen, and including tiny details in the background of panels that you only see the second or third time you look at the page. My favorite illustrations are her overhead shots and distance views. There are just a few of them scattered throughout the novel, but in each one, Ms. Telgemeier gives us so much to look at, and the difference in perspective from the typical close-up panels makes a lasting impression.

Ms. Telgemeier has a great website at goraina.com. She includes regular blog posts, information about her books (along with a number of reading guides), and a great FAQ page for fans.

Ms. Telgemeier has written a number of graphic novels and short stories. The most well-known of these are probably the #1 New York Times bestsellers Smile and Sisters, both graphic novels based on her childhood.

Have you read any great books lately?