The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbary Kerley

  • Title: The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins
  • Author: Barbara Kerley
  • Illustrator: Brian Selznick
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • Year Published: 2001
  • ISBN: 0439114942
  • List Price: $17.99
  • Page Count: 48
  • Age Range: 8-10
  • Genre: biography
  • Award(s): Caldecott Honor Book; other awards here.

Author information: Barbara Kerley has written many non-fiction books for youth. Her website, while visually unimpressive, includes a lot of useful information about her and her work. She includes a biography of herself, links to her books, a trailer for her books that she made, a link to a list of pets she’s had as well as a link to a fictionalized diary she wrote pretending to be her dog, Bingo. There is also contact information, links for teachers who may want to use her books in class, and some advice for aspiring writers. School Library Journal did an interview with Kerley asking her about her books, her collaborations with various illustrators, and her decision to write about the subjects she does. When asked about biographies, she said, “I love writing biographies because they show kids how other people have lived and the amazing things people can accomplish”.

Illustrator information: Brian Selznick is well known for his award-winning work that he both wrote and illustrated, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, as well as many collaborations with authors. His website  focuses mostly on Hugo Cabret but also includes a biography, links to all of his books, links to websites of authors he’s worked with, and interviews he’s given. In an interview with WNYC, he discusses how most of his illustrations for Hugo Cabret were from his imagination, but after it published he was given a behind-the-scenes tour of Grand Central Station.

Reviews: Booklist and Kirkus gave this book starred reviews, and School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly gave it favorable reviews as well. All of them cited Kerley’s painstaking research and sense of amazement she conveys in her writing as well as Selznick’s dramatic illustrations. Kirkus says, “Hawkins was a showman, and Selznick presents his story pictorially as high melodrama, twice placing the hero front stage, before a curtain revealing a glimpse of the amazing dinosaurs. turns of the page open onto electrifying, wordless, double-page spreads”. All of the reviews agree that this book is unique and will appeal to all ages.

Readers annotation: There was a time when nobody could even imagine what a dinosaur looked like. Waterhouse Hawkins changed that.

Summary: Waterhouse Hawkins is not a well-known name, but he was the man who brought dinosaurs back to life after their rediscovery. Always an artist, Hawkins teamed up with scientists to create models of what dinosaurs may have looked like based on their bones, and his models were installed in the Crystal Palace in England as well as at the Smithsonian and Princeton University. He encountered many obstacles along this journey, first having to prove the value of these models to the scientific world and later dealing with the infamous Boss Tweed. This book concludes by looking at how Waterhouse Hawkins’ models and dedication to recreating dinosaurs has impacted our understanding of the animals today, even though his models were later proved to be inaccurate.

Evaluation: It’s hard to decide which is a greater triumph: the expansive, bold illustrations of Selznick or the tender, thorough narrative treatment that Kerley gives to her subject. Kerley’s narration is comprehensive and gives the reader a great idea about Waterhouse Hawkins, his work, and the time he lived in, and follows this biography with a look at his lasting contributions in this field. She expertly blends biography with science and gives readers an understanding of an important figure in the history of dinosaurs that many have never heard of before. Her work is enhanced by Selznick’s artwork. He uses deep, rich colors that fill entire pages and bring Waterhouse Hawkins and his dinosaurs to life. Many of his illustrations are based on sketches and artwork by Hawkins, which adds an extra layer of honesty and depth to the book.

Rating and appeal factors:

  • Quality: 5/5  This book is an original. The subject matter is presented in-depth and includes modern context of Waterhouse Hawkin’s legacy. The artwork is stunning and its rich detail complements the detail of the narrative.
  • Popularity4/5  Kids love dinosaurs. This book is sure to capture the imagination of children who love learning about these huge prehistoric beasts, although it may disappoint those who were hoping for more information about dinosaurs themselves, as this focuses on Waterhouse Hawkins and how he brought them back to life.
  • Appeal factors: dinosaurs, expansive illustrations, biography, narrative non-fiction.

Read-alikes: 

  1. Barnum’s Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World by Tracey Fern is a perfect suggestion for readers who liked learning about the history of dinosaur discovery and recreation. This book is a biography of Barnum Brown, who discovered the first t-rex skeleton as well as many other skeletons, some of which are still on display at the American Museum of Natural History today.
  2. For readers who want to learn more about bones of all sizes, Steve Jenkins’ Bones: Skeletons and How They Work shows how different bones connect to each other to form different body parts and compares human skeletons and bones with those of animals. This is a good fit for readers who were intrigued by how Waterhouse Hawkins and scientists created models based on only the bones of dinosaurs.

Book talk ideas: Start by asking readers to describe what a dinosaur looks like or to draw a dinosaur. After this, ask them if they would believe that 150 years ago people did not know what dinosaurs looked like. Talk about how Waterhouse Hawkins was the first person to get this knowledge to the public, and talk about his massive dinosaur models.

Discussion questions/ideas:

  1. When working in New York City, Waterhouse Hawkins is forced to stop work on his models for a museum in Central Park, and then his models are destroyed and buried in the park. Why does Waterhouse Hawkins persevere in making his dinosaurs for America? What does this say about his character?
  2. When scientists learned more about dinosaurs, they discovered that Waterhouse Hawkins’ models are inaccurate. Does this make them less valuable?
  3. What is Waterhouse Hawkins’ lasting legacy?

Reason for reading: I’m not certain on what list I first spotted this title, but I was intrigued at a dinosaur book that looked less at the prehistoric history when the dinosaurs were alive and focused instead on the modern history of discovery and dissemination of information about dinosaurs. I had never heard of Waterhouse Hawkins before, so not only was this a great book to read and include for my project, but I also got to learn something new in the process.

Additional relevant information: In the interview with Barbara Kerley mentioned above, Kerley talks about her feelings on the new Common Core Standards for schools. She says they haven’t changed the way she approaches a project, but they have renewed her confidence and dedication towards writing quality non-fiction for kids. Her website includes a section for teachers, that has study guides and activities for each of her books and how they can be incorporated into the classroom. Here is her CCS guide to Waterhouse Hawkins.

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