Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, author of Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!, discusses lessons kids can learn from her book's unintentionally messy main character.
I have a seven-year-old son who will proudly brag to friend and stranger alike that he is the original Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!
I’ll tell you a secret--he’s not. (Please don’t tell him.) But more on that later.
As an author, I am constantly examining my life for inspiration. A few years ago, when Sawyer was about four, he was a self-proclaimed “dino-expert.” He taught me the difference between a Stegoceras and a Stegosaurus, that a Gallimimus looked a bit “ostrich-like,” and that no boy under 25 will even consider any evidence that Tyrannosaurus rex was anything but the baddest carnivore to ever live.
At the same time that Sawyer was a dino-expert, he had another nickname: Sawyer the Destroyer. Everywhere that boy went, devastation followed in his path. It was never malicious on his part (although his older sisters would likely disagree). The inadvertent destruction was more just a fact of his stompy, whirly, flailing life.
You put these things together -- the dino-expert and the Destroyer -- and the concept of a dinosaur that unintentionally wreaks havoc starts to be obvious story material. And yet, Sawyer is not the original Tyrannosaurus Wrecks.
In the years that I’ve been writing for kids, I’ve take inspiration for my characters from the people I know -- and that is often my own children. But I’ve learned that a cute story about your own child is nowhere near as powerful as a book that elevates a simple tale to shed light on a universal truth of childhood.
In Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!, the main character is a destroyer, but it is never intentional. In fact, the destruction is the result of his boisterous excitement toward school. He is animated, lively, and energetic, and a bit oblivious to why that would cause him problems. As the story unfolds, you can feel the change in his own attitude toward his mistakes. At first, he is unaware there is a problem. Slowly, he becomes embarrassed and then self-conscious. When his friends reject him, he is mortified and crushed.
When I was a kid in school, I was a complete klutz, had zero athletic skill, and was as prone to saying the wrong thing as I was to doing the wrong thing.
I am Tyrannosaurus Wrecks.
But, then again, so is Sawyer. We’ve all had our Tyrannosaurus Wrecks moments, when we’ve spilled our lunch or tripped on our own feet or walked in at the wrong moment. Being able to tap into that kind of universal experience is a special thing for an author. That’s when we feel really good about being able to reach as many readers on a personal level as possible.
And even without the whole universal truth thing, I got to write a book with a Gallimimus in a dress. I have no complaints about my job.
If you enjoy Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!, here are some other great read-aloud books about dinosaurs:
Dinosailors by Deb Lund and Howard Fine: A sweet story about teamwork, testing your boundaries, and the comfort of home.
Here Comes Destructosaurus! by Aaron Reynolds and Jeremy Tankard: This age old battle between adult fortitude and child determination will leave you giggling.
Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea: For every parent who has ever had the bedtime fight -- and for all those kids fighting bedtime, too!