Tuesday, September 30, 2008

(Insert Palin joke here)

Danny and the Dinosaur
Story and Pictures by Syd Hoff

1958, Harper & Row

It's hard to imagine a simpler book than "Danny and the Dinosaur."

The rough pen and ink drawings in my second-hand edition are lightly shaded with what appears to be colored pencil. The sentences are short and direct, designed to engage early readers. And the story itself doesn't stray far from its title: Danny, who visits a museum, befriends a dinosaur, who was on exhibit but without explanation comes to life.

I read this book a bunch of times as a kid. The drawings still feel comforting, especially a few parts where the color doesn't match up right. My slightly musty copy even smells like childhood to me. (Sadly, newer editions are defaced by cartoony colorization -- but millions of older copies were sold, and can still be found at thrift stores and libraries).

When I started reading "Danny and the Dinosaur" to my daughter, I was dismayed to realize that the story now reminds me of "Night at the Museum," that comedy where Ben Stiller is the night guard at the Museum of Natural History and all the exhibits come to life.

Subtlety doesn't run up box office receipts, so the movie's plotline is much broader and flashier. And that stokes a frequent worry of mine: That smart marketers with access to great special effects are stealing the best parts of childhood.

"Night at the Museum" is not terrible. In fact, it's kind of fun to watch. But in no way does it inspire the sense of wonder I found, so long ago, when paging through "Danny and Dinosaur."

So until Rosie discovers that computer-generated imagery is an option, I'll be reading this story as often as she'll let me, hoping her imagination will take flight in its wide-open spaces:

Danny loved dinosaurs. He wished he had one.

"I'm sorry they are not real," said Danny. "It would be nice to play with a dinosaur."

"And I think it would be nice to play with you," said a voice.

"Can you?" said Danny.

"Yes," said the dinosaur.

"Oh, good," said Danny. "What can we do?"

"I can take you for a ride," said the dinosaur.

He put his head down so Danny could get on him...

1 comment:

Carol said...

FYI: Danny and the Dinosaur is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with over 10 million copies sold worldwide. I've recently created a website dedicated to honoring the amazing legacy of my dear uncle, Syd Hoff. Enjoy learning more about one of the most beloved children's authors and prolific cartoonist at www.SydHoff.org.