A new printing of a previously published work by Doug TenNapel, Tommysaurus Rex is the classic boy and his dog story. Except this time the dog dies at the beginning of the book.
Ely is crushed when his dog, Tommy, is hit by a car. His dad decides to remedy this by sending Ely to his grandfather’s farm for the summer. His grandfather combines the gritty hard work of farm life with the spoiling presents and junk food of a fun-loving grandpa. Of course, nothing stops Ely from missing Tommy, nor does anything keep the local bully from trying to make Ely’s life miserable. When the bully chases Ely into a cave, Ely makes the discovery of a lifetime — a real, live Tyrannosaurus Rex! Rex is not only alive, he is just like a giant dog. Not everyone is excited about having a dinosaur around and all of the attention does not make Ely any more popular with bullies. Still, the combination of Rex and his grandfather seems to be just what Ely needs to learn some valuable life lessons.
First, I need to say that this is not a book for people who can’t handle animal deaths in their stories. While no TenNapel story would be complete without quirky humor, a huge theme in this story is what it means to lose a pet. In addition to poignant introspection on what animals mean to us, glimpses into the bully’s back story reveal his abandonment complex resulting from his father’s absence. Not only do you first hate this bully for making Ely eat dog poop (continuing the metaphor of people’s insensitivity to the loss of a pet?), but then you have to feel sorry for him as you learn that he’s probably just acting out because of loneliness. Drat your emotional complications, TenNapel!
However, interspersed with all of these complexities are giggle-inducing asides, especially for the less mature among us. I mean, dinosaurs have bus sized poop; let hilarity ensue! I especially love the grandfather’s additions to the story, like convincing the mayor that they were just fertilizing the park, agreeing to “disappear” an angry bull, and his joyful pain from his trick ankle that only hurts when good things are happening.
The drawings express the emotional and humorous elements of the story equally well. TenNapel does gross-cute well, as you see on the cover. It features an adorable face-licking moment where you can practically smell the stench of dinosaur breath accompanying the dripping saliva. The cartoony art might not prepare the reader for the emotional weight that comes with pet deaths, bullies, potential dangers, and broken relationships. However, that interesting juxtaposition makes these subjects more approachable for younger readers.
With its balance of fun and heartbreak, this is not a book to hand to just any kid looking for a cool dinosaur story. It isn’t a dinosaur story as much as it is a story of relationships and what it takes to make someone a good person.