In Review: Tommysaurus Rex

Tommysaurus Rex by Doug TenNapel

Published by Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic, June 2013. Hardcover $19.99 or paperback $10.99, 139 pages. Intended for ages 9 – 12.

Note: Originally published in black-and-white in 2004, this new edition has been expanded with 32 pages of art and is now in full color. And I have to add that writer/artist TenNapel is the creator of videogame/cartoon character Earthworm Jim.

The cover: Our hero Ely is taking a gooey ‘ole sloppy kiss from Tommy the T-rex. You’d think he was going to get munched, but you can tell by Ely’s face he’s loving it. Artwork by writer/artist Doug TenNapel with color by Katherine Garner. This image gives you a good idea of what lurks within. Overall grade: B+

The premise: From the back cover: “When Ely’s beloved dog, Tommy, is hit by a car, he goes to his grandpa’s farm for the summer to get his mind off things. One day, while exploring a nearby cave, he discovers a full-grown but friendly Tyrannosaurus Rex. As the news of the dinosaur spreads around town, Randy, the mean kid down the street, decides he’s going to make life miserable for Ely and his dinosaur–with devastating consequences.” Dinosaurs and children?! I’m in! Overall grade: A-

The characters: Ely is a relatable lead for all ages. He loves his pets, he wants to have fun with them (without hurting anyone) and he wants to do what’s right. Having his dog Tommy die in the first ten pages is a quick way to make him sympathetic to readers. His reactions will echo to readers’ pasts with their own pets or bring up memories of Old Yeller, Marley and Me, etc. His dad has a brilliant line on Page 15, “When a boy loses his dog, he gets a lot older.” Sad, but true. Grandpa is the type of relative everyone wishes they had: old as dirt, hardworking, salt of the earth, and a spoiler of grandchildren. He’s got some terrific pages, both wise and funny: 31, 62, 63, and 65. And Tommysaurus? Well, he’s a dinosaur that’s going on golden retriever. He does not speak but we do get a dramatic flashback beginning on Page 107 that makes him as sympathetic as Ely. Randy is a bad kid. No, trust me, he’s a really bad kid. He’s mean and he’s got a reason to be. I was very surprised with the twists and turns of his character. Pages 131, 133 and 137 still hit me pretty hard, and are terrific things for young readers to consider if they would do likewise. Overall grade: A

The settings: The primary setting is Grandpa’s farm, located near some woods and caves. It’s a big enough space for the dino to dash about, though it is a little too close for some of the neighbors’ liking. It’s a generic setting that serves the story. Overall grade: B

The action: It’s got a T-rex, c’mon! What’s not to love? What would you expect action-wise from a book like this? Well, think about it! It’s all there, I promise, and will delight any dino-lover. Overall grade: A+

The climax: It doesn’t matter how many dinosaur books, comics or movies you’ve read or seen, I did not anticipate this ending and I don’t think you will either. It’s epic, it’s dramatic and it’s perfection. Overall grade: A+

The art: This is a graphic novel and it’s got cartoon realism: the characters look like cartoons but their settings and both Tommys look real. It’s a great mash-up. I love the style begun at breakfast in the beginning, from Ely’s gaping maw to his mom’s elongated neck and flipping hair. The dinosaur is great in every panel he’s in, providing the most disgusting burp I’ve ever seen. Grandpa is the scene stealer, though. Every time he smiled he won me over. Overall grade: A+

The colors: Katherine Garner does a great job on the coloring. I can only draw on my experience in reading comics for 37 years, but usually work intended to be in black-and-white does not look good when it gets colored–it looks like Ted Turner when he colorizes classic movies. Not so in this book. I don’t know how I’d feel if I saw the original version of this story, since the coloring contributes so much to the emotional impact of what’s going on. Don’t peek, but Pages 107 – 124 really pack a wallop due to the coloring. Overall grade: A+

The final line: A boy and his dinosaur. It doesn’t get any better than this. This final word in the book makes you hope that children like Ely exist and that they have the save heart to make the same choices. Overall grade: A

 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comics Buyers Guide for a few years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” He had to give that up to teach 8th graders English for 19 years, and has only recently been teaching 9th graders English. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars or Indiana Jones items online.

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