Chris Gall's illustrative style reminds me of a combination of Chris Van Allsburg and David Weisner. He can be almost photographically realistic and marvelously fantastical at the same time. With Dinotrux, he hits a sweet spot that kids (and parents) will not be able to resist. In fact, by the time I finished the story time in which Dinotrux debuted, one copy had already been sold!
Really, the name and the cover illustration says it all. And who among us, when driving down the road and pointing out back loaders, graders and the like to our kids has not had a fleeting thought on the similarities between construction trucks and dinosaurs? Which is exactly why this book works so well. Gall has hit upon a common but heretofore undocumented communal idea. The story itself is not long or complex, which is great because most (not all, of course) kids phase out of trucks and dinosaurs by the time they are five or six. The dinotrux are big, bad brutes clomping around the earth making things dangerous for the wild-eyed cave folks and each page is dedicated to their dastardly ways. Gall blends the dinosaur and truck names, as well as their personalities, brilliantly. There is the Tyrannosaurus Trux, naturally, but there are also the Garbageadon, the Craneosaurous and the lazy Deliverasaurs who resemble brown UPS trucks with massive claws. They are lazy because in the prehistoric world dinotrux are not helpful like the evolved trucks of today. Towards the end of the book there is a massive change that brings about the end of most of the dinotrux, who are swallowed up by the ground to become fossils. Those who survive, over time, become the sturdy workers of today, as depicted in a fold-out page. The penultimate page of the book is devoted to a city construction site scene in which the fossil of an old dinotrux is being hauled out of the ground by a crane as a crowd, some of whom look suspiciously like the cave people, look on. The final page of the book finds a janitor in a museum sweeping up for the night in the semi-darkness as the massive Tyrannosaurus Trux fossil he is standing in front of shines its headlight eyes down on him...
I wish I had more of the illustrations to share with you. The dinotrux are executed with just the right amount of humor and the color palette Gall works with is perfectly matched to the subject matter and not too muddy or dull despite the jurassic time frame. This is definitely a book worth buying for the 2 - 6 year old crowd, especially if your little truck lover is just beginning to develop his or her passion. You will find yourself driving down the street saying, "Hey, look at that tankerasaurous over there kids!" For the older kids, this is actually a great book to practice reading skills on.
Finally, you will not be surprised to learn that Dreamworks has bought the rights to the book and plan to make and animated, 3-D movie based on it!
Check out Chris's other books:
Also, not the best segue, but I want to call attention to a wonderful post written by children's book author and educator Kate Coombs over at the blog Book Aunt titled, Picture Book Lessons About Being Yourself. She comments on this topic, much abused by celebrity authors, and suggests a few books that handle it both subtly and inspiringly. There are also several great titles mentioned in the comments as well.