6.06.2012

Lulu and the Brontosaurus, written by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Lane Smith, 113 pp, RL 1.5


Lulu and the Brontosaurus is by Judith Viorst of the Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day trilogy fame and Lane Smith of  Grandpa Green, It's a Book and The Stinky Cheese Man fame. If you know anything about either of these giants of kid's books, then you know that Lulu and the Brontosaurus is a book worth reading. Everything about Lulu and the Brontosaurus, from the shape of the book to the illustrations and design to the main character and the narrator is out of the ordinary. Published last year, Lulu and the Brontosaurus is now available in paperback!

You know this right from page one when the narrator tells you she knows very well that people and dinosaurs never lived on the Earth at the same and and that the name "brontosaurus" has been replaced by "apatosaurus." But, "since I'm the person writing the story, I get to choose what I write, and I'm writing about a girl and a B R O N T O S A U R U S. So if you don't want to read this book, you can close it up right now - you won't hurt my feelings." I was hoping my seven year old son might pick up Lulu and the Brontosaurus and read it on his own, but he is still in the thrall of graphic novels and I really wanted to read this book out loud. So, over the course of two nights he struggled to keep his eyes open for several more pages than I had intended to read, much to my surprise. I think I thought that Lulu and the Brontosaurus would be a bit like Kay Thompson's Eloise with dinosaurs and thus unappealing to a boy currently reading about a viking from another planet carrying around the big toe of an evil tyrant named Drool. But, I have learned after many years, most kids are entirely happy to have almost anything read out loud to them, not to diminish the loveliness of Lulu and the Brontosaurus in any way.
In chapter one (there are twelve chapters and three chapter thirteens - you have to read it to find out why...) we learn that Lulu was a pain, "She wasn't a pain in the elbow. She wasn't a pain in the knee. She was a pain - a very big pain - in the b u t t ." An only child, Lulu would "screech till the lightbulbs burst and throw herself down on the floor, and then she would kick her heels and wave her arms" whenever she was told "no." Naturally, when Lulu announces that she wants a brontosaurus for her birthday in two weeks time their patient explanations of why this gift is impossible the throws the mother of all fits, for twelve days. Then, on the day before her birthday she says to her parents, " 'Okay, then, foo on you' (She had terrible manners.) 'If you aren't going to get me a brontosaurus, I'm going out and get one for myself." She packs her suitcase and sets off and her parents let her go! In part, because they are sure she will return shortly, but also because they are exhausted and decide to have a cup of tea and a cookie.

Lulu's search leads her into a forest where she meets an increasingly fierce parade of animals that she bests with her horridness. When she finally finds her brontosaurus, she is surprised to learn that it is she who is to become the pet as the dinosaur, who is quite lonely, has always wanted a pet. Very politely, the brontosaurus informs her that she is "about to be the first person - ever - to be an animal's pet. Congratulations and, once again, happy birthday." Lulu has no choice, no matter how much she dislikes being a pet or how much she misses home or how much she screams. A patient dinosaur, the brontosaurus insists that Lulu speak politely to him. 

Eventually Lulu runs away, despite the sadness she feels as she hears the voice of the brontosaurus calling, "Come back, little pet, come back," getting quieter with every step. She meets the same ferocious animals on the way home, but instead of out-fiercing them, she treats them kindly. As she is about to reach home, the dinosaur catches up with her and she has to explain again why she cannot be his pet. She does invite him in for a piece of birthday cake and lemonade and promises to have him back for Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July and the story ends on a bit of a sad note. In fact, at that point I put the book down and turned to my son saying, "That's kind of sad, don't you think?" My son agreed. Happily, there is another chapter thirteen and another which lets the reader choose from three different endings! Lane Smith's illustrations are perfectly matched to Viorst's story and convey the size of the dinosaur, the enormity of the forest and the creatures in it as well as the delightfully cranky Lulu. Bottom line, this is a beautiful book that would make a wonderful gift to any emerging reader and also just a very fun read.

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