Continuing with my reviews of some of our favorite books off of my daughter’s school summer reading list, count me surprised that this is a solid winner in our home. Dinosaurs, clever monsters, graphic novel format, disasters, and more dinosaurs… this book has won my kids’ hearts. Check out Mad Scientist Academy: The Dinosaur Disaster by Matthew McElligott, 2015.
This book is about The Mad Scientist Academy where a group of six young monsters of varying types show up to attend their first day with Dr. Cosmic. Their teacher is a somewhat bumbling inventor who makes amazing creations that always seem to go slightly wrong. The six pupils, whom are all introduced by name on the second spread (seen above), get to experience Dr. Cosmic’s new dinosaur exhibit. They hear some important dinosaur information from a holograph of a paleontologist, while in the backdrop the exhibit isn’t functioning quite as smoothly as it should. Later, while on a scavenger hunt of sorts in the full dinosaur exhibit, the students learn much more about dinosaurs and then the disaster strikes – the robotic dinosaurs are accidentally switched from “safe mode” to “live mode.” Using their cleverness and their handy student computer handbooks, the six solve the problems all while learning an immense amount about dinosaurs. There is nothing quite like getting educated and running for your life at the same time!
In The Dinosaur Disaster, all of the text appears in speech or thought bubbles, plus some sound affect typography here and there, in a graphic novel and yet picture book format. You would think this makes the book difficult to read aloud, but actually it just takes a bit more effort with the spreads. I find it worked best in the beginning reads of this book to point to the panel I was reading from as we went. Now that my kids practically have it memorized, that isn’t necessary. This does some amazing things for prereaders. First off, the pages are so full of action, it helps them follow the story while I point to the panel and they figure out what is happening around the written conversation. Secondly, it has solidly taught my youngest how to follow the flow of a book. She had a tendency to read books on her own back to front, probably a page turn preference with her solid right-handedness. But I recently noticed that she has been reversing that finally and I think this book largely contributed to it. So much happens in each spread, it makes it fairly obvious what direction you should be going in the story – something that isn’t always clear in regular picture books. She can be found “reading” this book often on her own and she always does it the right direction and pretty much quotes the dialog verbatim.
I haven’t talked too much about graphic novels here, but I am an avid reader of that genre and frequently highlight them on my bookshelf tumblr. They are definitely gaining attention and are starting to pop up more and more frequently, which I am absolutely ecstatic about! In this year’s ALA awards, one of our favorites, Roller Girl, won a Newbery Honor. And last year, another graphic novel won a Caldecott Honor. They finally seem to be getting the recognition as an awesome book format which they totally deserve. It might be surprising to note how much my pre-readers adore reading any and every graphic novel I leave out. There is something very special about graphic novels and a kid that cannot read on their own yet. A lot of the action and storyline of a graphic novel can be deciphered visually considering the number of panels available on each page. It doesn’t work for all, especially considering the novels that are heavily dialogue-based, but so far that hasn’t deterred my little ones. El Deafo is another solid favorite for my girls, and myself. And I love the Hilda series by Luke Pearson. But, I digress. The point of this graphic novel educational paragraph was to point out the excellent format of this book for a picture book.
I was never one to be enamoured with dinosaurs as a child, but this book certainly makes the topic of dinosaurs exceptionally appealing to any child’s interests. It is incredibly active. The characters are hilarious despite the predicament, and depending on your level of involvement as the reader and your familiarity with the types of monsters they are, you can really jazz up the book by reading in the character’s voices. Some of it is written for you, as in the text for the young Frankenstein monster speaking without verbs. My girls are particularly enthusiastic of my robot voice for the character, Nicole. Also, the panels introducing the six students are pure genius. We go over and over that page discussing each character, what their names are, what kind of monster they are, etc…. I think this is super fun and my youngest is enthralled to repeatedly point to them and state their names.
Another thing I really liked about this book was the presentation of the factual information within the adventure itself. The opening introduction exhibit with the holographic recording is quite well done, where the somewhat boring information appears more in the backdrop of the scene as the hologram continues to talk even though things aren’t going perfectly with the exhibit. It is a very clever way to teach within the story.
There are also computer screen panels with facts and imagery about dinosaurs, typical to what you would see in a museum, sprinkled as needed and in relation to the characters looking up information. But these also serve as clues throughout them solving the problems. At first glance, I assumed this book would work better for an older age of child than my own, but I also found that pieces of it seem to work excellently no matter the age and it certainly has depths of information for the older and more curious.
I definitely say give this book a try. We cannot wait to check out more Mad Scientist Academy adventures!