‘Of all our joint projects, these are definitely the most fun to do,’ says children’s writer Gabby Dawnay of the picture books she has created with illustrator Alex Barrow. ‘We have total control of the imaginative process.’ If I had a Dinosaur, a delightfully escapist fable about a little girl who acquires a titanosaurus as a pet, was published earlier this year. It’s full of jokes, puzzles and mind-teasing curiosities, in both the text and illustrations, which stretch the reader’s imagination, and play with ideas of fantasy, imagination, and reality.
Yet there’s no shortage of illustrated children’s books about dinosaurs. What stands out here is not just the charm of the concept, but the seamless and organic integration of image and text in the way the story is told. This starts on the first page, where crucial words in the rhyme scheme are replaced with pictures. ‘It’s important for us to show how words and images work together, and give younger kids an opportunity to participate in the reading,’ explains Dawnay. ‘The book becomes more of a shared experience, or conversation.’
For younger readers, this is a charming story about a topic four year-olds find perennially fascinating. ‘I tried really hard to make it graphically strong, so that kids will go back to it,’ explains Alex Barrow. Children who can read, and discuss the story in more detail, will find, when they do go back, a wealth of intriguing details. There’s a dynamic relationship between the space occupied by text and image on the page throughout. ‘The dinosaur is pushing the text out of the book,’ points out Barrow, referring to several pages on which the narration curves around the looming shape of the huge creature, which is threatening to obliterate everything. ‘The text is all lines till the dinosaur appears, then the dinosaur curves the words round his body.’
‘The text only just fits – we’re playing with scale,’ adds Dawnay. ‘Scale is a huge theme. We’ve constantly got a cat there by the dinosaur, always outlining scale, with tiny plastic dinosaurs as well. She’s reading a book about dinosaurs.’ Sometimes the pet dinosaur is larger than the girl’s house; then he’s sitting on her parents’ sofa. ‘Kids can pick up on the scale, and discuss the reality of having a dinosaur.