This is from one of the first children's books I wrote, in 2009. It's called "What Really Happened To The Dinosaurs?" It's about an imaginative boy named Owen and his struggling paleontologist father. Owen spouts colorful theories about what really made dinosaurs extinct while his Dad tries to rein him in. It's a bit rough since it's one of my earliest attempts at a children's book. There are several things I would do differently today. But in the interest of showing the creative process, I've posted it here.
I had the pleasure of working with the talented Austin Madison on this project. He's a multi-hyphenate, as in: story artist-animator-artist-illustrator-actor-improviser-teacher and probably seven other things. I contacted Austin because I needed an illustrator for this project and knew he loved dinosaurs. I met him while taking an acting class at Pixar. It was a blast to work with him, as he's a bundle of ideas and energy and always coming up with new things. Usually he harnesses this power for good, as on his always entertaining blog: Austin Translation
The cover, which illustrates one of Owen's theories that dinosaurs left Earth for a distant planet:
A two-page spread showing one of Owen's theories: a cooties epidemic wiped out all the dinos.
Here's the story. Note: Anything in parentheses is a description of what the eventual images would be.
1. (A camp site in Wyoming. Owen (8) eats breakfast with respected paleontologists in a mess tent. Owen's young Dad bursts in with a fossil.)
Dad: "I've got it! I found something! You know how everyone thinks an asteroid wiped out all the dinosaurs? This fossil shows dinosaur bones after the ash layer. That means some dinosaurs survived."
Bald Digger: "Your fossil's upside down. And you call yourself a paleontologist. "
Gray-bearded Digger: "Yeah, a real dinosaur scientist would come up with a new theory."
2. (Dad paces on the outskirts of the campsite, picks up fossils and discards them.)
Dad: "I have to find my theory."
Owen: "Don't worry, Dad. You can borrow one of my ideas."
Dad: "Thanks, Owen, but..."
Owen: "That ash layer's not from an asteroid, it's from a..."
3. Owen: "Dinosaur Chili Cook-off! The dinosaurs ate so much chili they started breathing fire."
4. Owen: "Then the knights thought they were dragons and killed them all off to impress yucky girls."
5. Dad: "But dinosaurs couldn't breathe fire."
Owen: "Ooh, this fossil looks like an icicle. I have an Ice Age theory.
6. Owen: "It was freezing cold and the dinosaurs were having so much fun playing in the snow that they forgot to put their winter coats on."
7. Dad: "I've been digging fossils since before you were born - there's no record of dinosaurs wearing coats."
Owen: "Don't be ridiculous. Like their parents would let them go outside without one. Hmm, I bet all that ice melted and there was tons of water around. And then something caused a flood: Brokyo... Brakkyo..."
8. Owen: "Brachiosaurus Belly Flop!"
9. Owen: "And all they found were their swim trunks."
10. Dad: "Owen! Dinosaurs are just like any other animal - they don't wear clothes. If anything, it's more likely they were wiped out by disease."
Owen: "Ooh, I know of a deadly disease. It can claim seventy-five percent of a population within fifteen days. It has no known cure..."
11. Owen: "Cooties. Malia Robinson must have gotten her grubby mitts on a time machine."
12-13. Owen: "Those poor dinos were right in the hot zone..."
14. Owen: "Ooh, this fossil looks like a spaceship, maybe aliens..."
Dad: "Cooties aren't a real disease! These are ridiculous theories."
15. Owen: "I'm just trying to help."
Dad: "I'm sorry. Please tell me about your spaceship theory. No? Okay, I'll do it. A spaceship flew in and blasted away all the dinosaurs."
Owen: "You watch too much T.V. Everyone knows that the main weakness of dinosaurs is their walnut-size brains. And that makes them very poor spellers."
16. Owen: "The aliens obviously came to Earth to challenge the dinosaurs to an intergalactic spelling bee. They flew the dinos back to their planet and made them try to spell some really tough alien words, like: borkintrite and zeebleflozz and glamorous."
17. Owen: "The poor dinosaurs are still there, trying to spell the words. They couldn't fly back because they don't know how to drive a spaceship."
18. Dad: "Interesting. So you're saying maybe the dinosaurs couldn't migrate - they were trapped and that's why they went extinct?"
19. Owen: "Yeah, Dinosaurs were trapped in school and turned to stone from boredom."
Dad: "Why do you think they couldn't migrate? The digs indicate..."
Owen: "Right, they tried to dig all the way to China and accidentally buried themselves."
20. Owen: "Or the Organization of Woodland Mammals were sick of being food and rose up to overthrow their reptile overlords! Raargh!"
Owen: "No, I've got it. A Dinosaur Mad Scientist created robots to make life easier. But of course the evil robots turned on their masters..."
21. Dad: "Why couldn't they migrate? Maybe there's a real theory there..."
Owen: "Yeah, they migrated to a..."
22. Owen: "Slumber party at a velociraptor's house. It was the most awesome slumber party ever: no bedtime, all the sticky treats you could eat..."
Dad: "Oh, yes, maybe some dinosaurs migrated. Which means... some survived."
23. Owen: "Everything was cool until the trouble-making Triceratops tossed that first pillow..."
Dad: "But where did they migrate to?"
24. Owen: "Feathers flew everywhere - you couldn't even tell they were dinosaurs..."
Dad: "They didn't migrate to a place... maybe to a new species..."
25. Dad: "But what species?"
Owen: "And that's how the dinosaurs turned into..."
26-27. Owen and Dad together: "Birds."
28. Dad: "That's it! That's our new theory!"
Owen: "Yeah, the asteroid took out some of the dinosaurs, but most survived and turned into birds. That's what really happened to the dinosaurs. I knew it all along."
29. (Still life with image of Owen and Dad's hats on a hat rack next to a Golden Fossil trophy for "Best New Theory.")