I am declaring this week Children’s Book Review Week here at BwoB, both because I’m a little behind on my other reading and because it’s nice to try writing outside my usual realm of YA, genre, and select non-fiction. It should be noted that many of the titles I review this week were first recommended to me by fellow blogger hardboundandgagged, our outstanding kids’ bookseller in another life, when they let all of us, y’know, sell books. She’s helped me stock the libraries of my first niece and nephew, who are my current excuses for reading picture books.
Presumably everyone reading this blog has heard of Mo Willems, best known for his Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny series. Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct, is a bit off the beaten path of his other work, but still retains his signature wit in both the text and illustrations. It stars Edwina, a dinosaur who didn’t get the memo about her species’ extinction and continues to help everyone in town and bake cookies. A young boy named Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie (and you have to love that name) sets out to convince everyone in his class that dinosaurs truly are extinct, thinking it will make Edwina – obvious proof to the contrary – disappear. Eventually Edwina hears him out, is convinced that she is extinct, but decides she just doesn’t care. The book ends with Edwina and Reginald sharing some fresh-baked cookies.
The criticism I’ve read about this book is that it discourages scientific thought, disparages the efforts of Reginald to present his research and findings, and ends with the dissenter jumping on the bandwagon. I can see where this criticism is coming from, but I have to respectfully disagree. This book shows that you can’t explain away somebody who is different, or something that doesn’t fit into your world view. Reginald does get a chance to prove to Edwina herself that dinosaurs are extinct. Edwina doesn’t disappear, however. She accepts his point of view while continuing to deal with the reality (that she exists) and, most importantly, keeps baking those cookies. Reginald must reconcile his knowledge of what happened to the dinosaurs with the one living next door.
This book is also so humorously written and illustrated that it’s hard to take it as a serious dismissal of scientific fact and research. Edwina wears a straw hat and pearl necklace, carries a handbag, and has painted her claws pink, details that have never been mentioned in any dinosaur research I’ve come across. She acts as a slide for the town’s children and answers the question of how many dinosaurs it takes to change the bulb in a street light (just one, on her tippy toes). In the end, Reginald just wants somebody to listen to his side of the argument, and I think teaching kids to listen to both sides and then make a decision about how to use that information is worthwhile. As for jumping on the bandwagon, well, I see it more as if you can’t beat them – join them.
One of the most fun parts about reading Willems books by myself or with a certain toddler is finding the pigeons and knuffle bunnies hidden throughout the book. This type of self-reference is great marketing for Willems, I’m sure, but also makes his young readers feel they have access to an inside joke on the pages of all his books. All around entertainment, if you ask me. Recommended for children young and old.