It’s a year since we did the last blog for the Federation of Children’s Book Groups Children’s Book Award. Coincidently, it is also a year since John Condon, the author of Mavericks Arts The Wondrous Dinosaurium, came to visit Picture Book Club just before his book was published. What a thrill then to find that very same book has been short-listed for the picture book category of the Children’s Book Award 2019; the only book award voted for solely by children! A brilliant excuse to catch up with John and Steve Brown, the illustrator and find out a bit more about this fabulous and, some might say, WONDROUS picture book!
The Wondrous Dinosaurium – FCBG Children’s Book Award Blog Tour 2019
First John told us a bit about where his inspiration for the book came from.
‘I was inspired by an article I read in a newspaper about the removal of Dippy (the plaster cast Diplodocus) from the entrance hall of the Natural History Museum in London. I felt a little saddened by that prospect but also nostalgic for those days when, as a child, I’d stand in front of her on school trips and just wonder! I suddenly realised I needed to capture that feeling in a story. That’s also the reason why the first dinosaur Danny chooses is a Diplodocus – it’s my homage to Dippy.
It was obvious that a dinosaur pet shop should be a wondrous place, and the shopkeeper should be equally exaggerated. With my nostalgia hat still on (it’s tall and purple) I was reminded of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory. I’m not ashamed to say that he became my inspiration for the Magical Mr Ree.’
And obviously, we had to ask Steve to tell us about the pictures!
‘The best part of the process for me is developing the characters and the world they live in.
The shop front went through about 4 different stages. I just couldn’t get it right. I was getting really frustrated with myself so I went to my wife (who generally knows best!) and she was the one who suggested that as it is a shop full of dinosaurs then it should maybe have scales instead of bricks, a pterosaur’s wing instead of a canvas overhang etc.’
And we had to get the gossip on what it was like working together! Steve went first.
‘We chatted about the book lots, but John didn’t try to sway me in anyway regarding the illustrations as he wanted me to put my own stamp on it. But he did want the dinosaurs to be “correct” with no made creatures etc.
John was always great with feedback on the roughs. I really like to hear feedback from as many people as possible, as working on your own you can get a bit of tunnel-vision.
I’ve been illustrating for 4 years and this book was so much fun to work on. John was great to work with and we still keep in contact.’
Then we asked John to tell us about working with Steve.
‘A Made-up-o-saurus was a big no no. I needn’t have worried though. Steve grabbed the opportunity with both hands and illustrated dinosaurs I hadn’t even considered. My favourite was the Utahraptor (which had feathers) because it raises the type of questions that were important to me. If that dinosaur had feathers then what else might the reader find out, if they chose to investigate further? I wanted children to ask questions and then search for their own answers.
In my design day job, I work collaboratively all the time but not usually in different places, as Steve and I were. It was exciting to see Steve’s work with fresh eyes and no expectations. He brought so many wonderful touches and thoughts to the illustrations that I wouldn’t have even considered.’
We could chat to John and Steve for hours but we might be told off by the FCBG people! At Picture Book Club cottage we’re keeping everything crossed for The Wondrous Dinosaurium as children everywhere start voting on the short-list! Click here for details on how to vote.
And, if you can’t vote because of, ahem, maturity then you can get your hands on a copy of this lovely book here or at your local bookshop or library. It’s ROAR-some!
We will let the final word go to Steve.
‘I was actually really sad when this book was finished. I loved doing this and am immensely proud of it. It’s an unbelievable honour to be shortlisted for this award. The fact it is voted for by children makes it all the more special because they’re who we write and illustrate for. So to know that they like it enough to be shortlisted is amazing.’