Roar, Snort, Grunt, and Grrrrrrr:
I’m Declaring It Dinosaur Day at 7-Imp

h1 July 8th, 2010 by jules

I’m shining the spotlight on some nonfiction today. In fact, everything’s coming up dinosaurs this morning at 7-Imp, as I’ve invited Lita Judge and Deborah Kogan Ray for a visit. Lita is the author and illustrator of Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World, published by Roaring Brook in April. And Deborah both wrote and illustrated Dinosaur Mountain: Digging Into the Jurassic Age, also published in April (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Both author/illustrators have stopped by to share some spreads, images, and sketches. Let’s check in with Lita first:

Lita: I love dinosaurs! I was crazy about them when I was five. I was even more in love with them when I was fifteen and started working on a dinosaur dig for the Tyrell Museum of Paleontology in Alberta, Canada. And, as an adult, I’m still wild about them. But, instead of sitting under the blazing sun, digging them up, I like to use my imagination and bring them to life through my pencil and paint.

“A bad-tempered Tyrannosaurus rex mother probably ate anyone who tried stealing her eggs. She stood guard over her warm, smelly mound nest. Leftovers from her last meal rotted nearby. Insects swarmed the rotting meat and piles of dinosaur poop.”

Lita with a dinosaur fossil

When I was a kid, I was lucky enough to have grandparents who raised eagles and other birds of prey. They were ornithologists, and they taught me a love of science and nature. But even more, being around the birds ignited my curiosity to imagine how baby dinosaurs must have behaved.

Fran Hamerstrom, Lita’s grandmother

Lita and Hoot

Living birds are dinosaurs — they evolved from dinosaurs. When I fed the birds of prey, whom my grandmother cared for, I imagined I was feeding dinosaurs. Back then, I drew pictures of baby birds with large eyes and wobbly necks, and I knew baby dinosaurs must have looked much the same. Just look at their skulls! That’s what I used to create my illustrations.

Hatching dinosaur from title page spread

I chose poses that were reminiscent of things we’ve seen in the animal world. For example, a dinosaur nest seen from above, as if you were looking down into a bird’s nest.

“Baby Maiasaura could easily be trampled by a mother who weighed as much as four pick-up trucks. Their mud nest was a good place to stay out of the way. Hatchlings teetered and wobbled like baby birds and stretched tiny faces up toward their mother’s enormous head. Imagine the noise all those baby dinosaurs made
as they squawked hungrily for food!”

Or behavior that’s similar to how colonies of penguins or pelicans gather at huge nesting sites.

“Imagine thousands of Hypacrosaurus mothers and tens of thousands of babies stretched as far as the eye can see. A pack of swift, cunning Troodon prowled the edge of the nesting colony, waiting to unleash a lightning fast raid on unprotected babies. Suddenly an alarm sounded. Hoooook! More mothers shrieked. Angry and fierce, they mobbed the attackers. The Troodon pack slunk away, hungry.”

One of the challenges I enjoyed about this book was capturing the immense difference in size between baby dinosaurs and their parents. I started the illustration process by sketching loose thumbnail sketches, exploring different compositions to convey the scale of dinosaurs. Then I began refining these ideas into detailed drawings and final art.

Throughout the sketch process, I try to keep ideas fluid. In this case, I thought an aerial view of a parent next to five school buses would show the immense size of a mother Argentinosaurus. But I thought there might be even a better to way to show her scale. Then I calculated that a parent weighed as much as seventeen elephants. I love drawing elephants, and thought the idea was better than the first.

The book has a pattern of two-page spreads. The first offers clues (or facts) that scientists have discovered. The second is a full spread conveying educated guesses about how baby dinosaurs and their parents behaved. I loved creating illustrations that demonstrated how dinosaurs must have behaved like animals alive today. The challenge was to tie illustrations of living animals with dinosaurs and show their similarities.

* * *

Thanks to Lita for sharing. If you haven’t seen this well-researched book, all about the world of baby dinosaurs, I highly recommend it. School Library Journal has called it a “surefire hit for dinophiles,” and Kirkus notes that Lita’s “vivid paintings provide amplification, perspective, and humor.” It also includes a glossary, bibliography, and author’s note at its close. Here’s some more info at Lita’s site. And don’t miss both Tricia’s review and Betsy Bird’s reviews here and here, respectively.

* * * * * * *

Next, I welcome Deborah Kogan Ray, author/illustrator of Dinosaur Mountain: Digging Into the Jurassic Age, which tells the story of dinosaur hunter Earl Douglass, a fossil expert from the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh who set out in 1908 to find dinosaur bones at the Uinta Basin in Utah — all for Andrew Carnegie, who “became caught up in the dinosaur craze.” School Library Journal called it a “rich find” in their starred review, adding “{w}ith its sand-colored pages, the warmth of the palette, and the brown script of the journal notes, this is a vibrant window into the burgeoning world of American paleontology a century ago.” With its closing notes about the jurassic dinosaurs of the Dinosaur National Monument Quarry and the Dinosaur National Monument itself, words from the author, biographies of Douglass and Carnegie, a glossary, and a bibliography, it’s yet another engaging, informative resource for the young dinophiles of the world.

This morning, Deborah is sharing her dummy sketches from the book, as well as a couple of the final illustrations. “I do my dummy sketches half-size,” she told me, “to preserve the freshness when I do finishes, so these are all small drawings — even before I shrunk the files! I included a couple of sketches where I made changes from single to double spreads.”

Here’s Deborah to say a bit more about the book, and I thank her for stopping by.

Deborah: As with all my books, the idea for Dinosaur Mountain: Digging into the Jurassic Age was sparked by a tidbit of information that sent me on a quest. Both this book and Down the Colorado: John Wesley Powell, the One-Armed Explorer were inspired and emerged from visits to Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. While doing research on Powell’s explorations of the Green River area that runs through the park, a visit to the famous “Bone Wall” sent me on another exploration.

The gigantic wall filled with thousands of dinosaur bones—exactly as they had washed up millions of years ago in the Jurassic Age—was awesome. I was as wide–eyed as all the kids who filled the Visitor Center, awaiting a talk by the park interpreter. When he began, “I’m going to tell you the amazing story about a man who you will never read about in books,” I knew I had to find out more about Earl Douglass and his remarkable discovery.

Sketch of the endpapers, the skeleton of Apatosaurus excelsus,
copied from an 1883 drawing by O.C. Marsh

Both stages of one spread. “The reason for the change,” Deborah adds,
“is to bring the viewer/reader closer.”

“With mounting excitement, Douglass and Goodrich probed and chipped into the rock layer, day after day, until finally almost the entire dinosaur was uncovered.”

Deborah adds: “To me, the process of writing and illustrating a book is akin to movie making. I adjust the plot. I look for ‘shots’ that will expand the visual aspects of the story. In my first sketch, my thought was to show the enormity of the discovery in the context of the immense landscape. But a bird’s eye view did not say what I wanted. So, I adjusted the perspective. The viewer/reader is now with Douglass and Goodrich as they chip into the hard sandstone. We can clearly see the bones, their tools, and the postures that denote their ages. The small details that enrich are there. It’s hard work — and hot. They have brought a water cooler.”

“The bones were packed in strong wooden crates for the long journey east, by railroad, to Pennsylvania. It took four years to dig out, transport, and mount the skeleton of the Apatosaurus louisae (named for Andrew Carnegie’s wife, Louise)
at the museum.”

* * * * * * *

BORN TO BE GIANTS: HOW BABY DINOSAURS GREW TO RULE THE WORLD. Copyright © 2010 by Lita Judge. Published by Roaring Brook, New York, NY. All images used with permission of the author.

DINOSAUR MOUNTAIN: DIGGING INTO THE JURASSIC AGE. Copyright © 2010 by Deborah Kogan Ray. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, NY. All images used with permission of the author.

5 comments to “Roar, Snort, Grunt, and Grrrrrrr:
I’m Declaring It Dinosaur Day at 7-Imp”

  1. Dinosaur Day — love it! I’ve had a dinosaur jones for most of my life, and it’s been fascinating to see how our understanding of them has changed even in just the last 50 years. (Cold-blooded to warm-, dull gray in color to bright and eye-catching…)

    Thanks so much for the intro to both of these books, Jules!

  2. I never get tired of looking at Lita’s sketches, finished work, and photos from the past: putting the old bird pictures and new dinosaur drawings side by side is revelatory and gorgeous. Deborah Kogan Ray’s book is new to me, and I’ll definitely look for it. I’m kind of more into the bone-hunting than the actual dinosaurs, and this can feed well into my fantasy life as paleontologist/archeologist.

    I came to appreciate dinosaurs via my husband’s passion: he used to smuggle a toy triceratops rolled up in his trouser cuff to Sunday school. The Enormous Egg was his childhood favorite, but oh he would have loved these books!

  3. Jules,

    Lita is great. She did a fantastic presentation for our reading council in May. She is truly talented and has led such an interesting life. I’m so glad she decided to become a children’s author and illustrator.

  4. Did you notice that I spelled my last name wrong in my previous comment? Could it be mother-of-the-bride jitters? My baby is getting married tomorrow!

  5. Who doesn’t love dinosaurs? That first book looks great. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like that, but what a great idea!

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