The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins
by Barbara Kerley; illustrated by Brian Selznick

Scholastic, 2001, 48 pp.
ISBN 0-439-11494-2, $16.95

Richard Owen is a household name in the world of paleontology, but without the expertise and creative work of an artist, Owen’s discoveries might never have come to life. "The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins" sheds light on the man who was responsible for bringing the world the first full-scale models of the past’s gigantic dinosaur beasts. This book, documenting Waterhouse’s accomplishments, will educate, may make you laugh or shed a tear, and will definitely inspire. It is a fast-paced and beautifully illustrated children’s book that will appeal to kids and adults. As the author, Barbara Kerley, unfolds the interesting and not often told story of Hawkins, the illustrator, Brian Selznick, depicts his life with such great detail and color you could almost read the whole story without ever looking at the text.

The story begins with Waterhouse’s completion and presentation of the first life size dinosaurs built for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s grand Crystal Palace in the 1850’s. Readers will be amazed and delighted to learn that famous scientists ate pigeon pie, and other delectable dishes, at a New Year’s Eve dinner party held inside a reconstructed Iguanodon. The extravagant and unique party, thrown by Waterhouse himself, was a successful attempt to gain recognition and approval from leading scientists before the dinosaurs made their first public appearance at the grand opening of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham Park where the stunned crowed got their first-life size glimpse of the past. The tides turned, however, when two years of work building models of American dinosaurs were violently destroyed by a greedy man hungry for power. Readers may be fascinated to learn that those smashed up bits of dinosaur still remain buried in New York’s Central Park. Though devastated, Hawkins returned to England and tenaciously continued his work. He brought the world detailed paintings of dinosaurs, which still hang in the Crystal Palace Park in England.

Besides the easy-to-read writing style and impressive artwork, what makes this book outstanding is the incorporation of science as a process. Unlike many children’s books, readers will get a sense of the steps that scientists go through to reconstruct organisms from fragmented fossil pieces to life size models, making this book a top candidate to incorporate into K-12 science curriculum. The story also shows how those who are artistically talented possess valuable skills for science and how a passion during youth can turn into a successful career.

The reader may go away wanting a bit more detail about the man and his work. Luckily, the book concludes with an author’s note that provides more information about Waterhouse and the author’s experience researching and writing the story. Be sure to check out the final page, an illustration comparing Waterhouse’s reconstructions of iguanodons, pterodactyls, megalosaurs, and plesiosaurs to today’s reconstructions.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in dinosaurs, science, art, biographies, or science history.

Copyright: Palaeontologia Electronica, 30 August 2002