Author: Hollie Hughes
Illustrator: Sarah Massini
Details: 32 pages; £7.91
At Balham Nursery School the children have been reading The Girl and the Dinosaur, a beautifully written book by Hollie Hughes, with illustrations from Sarah Massini. The story features a much-needed female protagonist with a love of dinosaurs.
The book begins with Marianne, a little girl who is all alone on a beach digging to find a dinosaur beneath the sand. She works away, uncovering bones one by one, until there is an entire skeleton laid out in front of her. This reveal drew gasps of surprise when I read it out loud and excited calls of “It’s a dinosaur!”.
Marianne names the skeleton "Bony" and promises the dinosaur that she’ll be a good friend. The day comes to an end, and that night, whilst Marianne is tucked up in bed, she makes a wish for the "old bones" to come to life. Her wish comes true. And so, she sets off with Bony on an adventure that really captured the imagination and interest of all the children that I read the book to. A real point of fascination for many children was seeing the skeleton inside the dinosaur as it comes back to life. One child commented: “There’s still bones in him! It’s inside his tummy now. It’s inside our tummy... you can’t see ‘cos your skin is covering it!”
The illustrations in the book are enchanting. I loved the setting of a traditional British seaside and for the children we read to, who are growing up in London, there is definitely a sense of magic and wonder when talking about the seaside. There are few adults within the pages of the book, only the fisherfolk who worry that Marianne is alone, and some sleeping adults, who Marianne never interacts with. For me, this helps to open up a space for Marianne to have an adventure that is innocent and full of delight. A few children commented that Marianne must be sad when she is alone at the beginning of the book. However, another child, who holds similar interests to Marianne countered, “No, she’s feeling happy ‘cos she’s had hard work, I think.”
Working as a teacher in a free-flow nursery school with children aged 2 to 5, I was surprised by some of the younger children as they chose to sit and listen to the story throughout. As well as the book offering beautiful illustrations, the text rhymes and has a lyrical flow to it. The words carry you through the story invoking a sense of realness. It’s as if you’re on an adventure with the characters. The vocabulary is rich and there is plenty of lovely language for older children to explore.
As a character, Marianne is relatable, adventurous and determined. She is fascinated with exploring her world and her love of dinosaurs. Unfortunately, in children’s literature, these are characteristics that are still attributed to boys rather than girls. Despite the title, the first time I read this book I heard a child repeat, “she?”. Due to the content, they had assumed the character was going to be a boy. Throughout the story, Bony is never gendered, yet, in discussions the class referred to it as male. When I questioned this, often girls would change their minds and decide that Bony was female. During these discussions, a sense of acceptance spread amongst the children – dinosaurs belong to everyone. Books like this still remain an important way to challenge typical gender stereotypes.
Unicorns and fairies do make a brief appearance. One I was initially sceptical about, but Marianne’s adventure soars past this and, before you know it, Marianne is back home and safely tucked up in bed. This is a dreamy, wonderful book and one that I highly recommend.
Joanna Henley is a Froebelian teacher at Balham Nursery School, in south-west London.
“Look! The green and the blue… I liked when Bony looked about and swimmed in the water – and her feet colour-changed”
Julia, age 4
“He’s a good dinosaur.”
Callum, age 4
“I like this one ‘cos it’s when Marianne wants the dinosaur to come alive… First, she was a bone, now she’s a dinosaur!”
Emma, age 4
“I could go on a dinosaur to my house. You have to put that dinosaur outside! My Mummy said we can’t have a dinosaur in the house.”
Harrison, age 3
“I like the book because Marianne’s made friends.”
Rosie, age 4
“I would wish to be a butterfly and fly all around Balham Nursery. I would fly up to space in zero seconds!”
Fionn, age 4
“I like Bony ‘cos I got bones in there.”
Matylda, age 3, touching her tummy
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