Dinosaur Blackout

6 August 2009

Dinosaur Blackout
by Judith Silverthorne
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$8.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-375-3

It’s unusual to begin the fourth novel in a series without having read the three previous. Would the book stand on its own, I wondered? Or would it be like arriving late to a party and feeling lost? I needn’t have worried. Judith Silverthorne, the award-winning Regina author of “Dinosaur Blackout,” has created a time-travel adventure for juvenile readers that definitely pulls its own weight.

The rich story concerns young Daniel, who lives on a farm in Saskatchewan’s Frenchman River Valley near Eastend, home of the T.rex Discovery Centre. Daniel’s a budding paleontologist and a great kid. He helps his parents with chores; has forgiven the delinquent and bullying Nelwin brothers; cares for his toddling sister; assists tourists who visit the quarry’s archaeological dig-site and campground; and is a sensitive friend to elderly neighbour\paleontologist Ole Pederson. Daniel enjoys “the best of all worlds … living the rural life and being able to dig for dinosaur bones.”

The boy has learned how to use prehistoric foliage to travel back to the Cretaceous Period, where dinosaurs like the Stygimoloch – a fossil of which was discovered on his family’s land – roar and roam. When the Stygimoloch bones disappear before Pederson and his cohort, Dr. Roost, can “retrieve the entire fossil and verity it,” they and a reluctant Daniel return to the “treacherous world of the dinosaurs” for observation and photos.

Silverthorne invents a credible Cretaceous landscape and creatures by appealing to readers’ senses and by seamlessly weaving facts – ie: “Edmontonosaurus were thought to have had sixty rows of teeth” and were “almost twice the weight of a rhinoceros” – into her story. She also does a superb job of local colour. It’s easy to visualize the buttes and coulees, where “Obvious deer and antelope trails criss-crossed on the hard ground, amid tufts of grass and the occasional clump of black-eyed Susans.” The breeze “rippled foxtails like waves on a gentle sea,” she writes, and “Meadowlarks and red-winged black birds fluted.”

She’s done an exemplary job of establishing the farm scenes, where everyone works together, whether that’s “Loading pitchforks with manure and heaping it onto the stoneboat” or saddling up the trail-ride horses for tourists. Daniel’s family and another operate these ventures “as a way of providing extra income to keep their farms alive.” Pretty realistic.

There’s much spirited dialogue in this easy-to-read novel, and it never rings a false note. The writer’s skills are also apparent in her offering of just enough information about Daniel’s previous trips to prehistoric time to make us feel we’ve been along on all the other journeys.

And speaking of journeys … once back in the past, how will the characters stop T.rex from annihilating them? What might they you use to “knock out a dinosaur,” and how will they apply it?

The greatest tests for a novel series are whether its individual books can stand alone, and whether reading one compels readers to seek the others. Dinosaur Blackout passes these tests with (Pterodactylus) flying colours.


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