On a trip to a museum, Danny befriends a dinosaur. The two of them wander around town, having fun and playing with other children. At the end of the day, the dinosaur has to go back to the museum, and Danny has to go in for supper. But they both agree it was a fantastic day.
Written fifty years ago by Syd Hoff, this book remains a staple of early reader collections. What child, after all, has not fantasized about dinosaurs coming to life, fully capable of talking and having fun? It’s not hard to see the appeal in the plot. The illustrations are also engaging. The colors are more muted than those typically used in modern early readers, but in many ways this is what helps to set the book apart from other choices. Some of the pictures are just brown, white, and black, while others have full color, and appear to have been done with colored pencils. Sometimes an illustration is helped by a quieter color palette, and this appears to be the case here.
Since the book was published in 1959, I feel I must mention that the beginning scenes in the museum might be offensive to some people. When Danny arrives at the museum he “saw Indians. He saw bears. He saw Eskimos.” The juxtaposition of two stereotypically rendered native peoples – both being referred to with terms that are not accepted by all members of these communities – with an animal is a subtle insult. It also reinforces the idea that these cultures are found only in museums, rather than being a part of the living culture of today’s world. While I doubt it was Syd Hoff’s intention to send these messages, fifty years later we need to be aware of the effect the words and images can have in a different cultural climate.