Bolivar is a dinosaur living in New York City, the busiest city in the world. His existence might change our understanding of history and paleontology—if only anyone would take the time to notice him! Only one person in the entire city knows that Bolivar exists—his next door neighbor, a young girl named Sybil.
Sybil has made it her mission to photograph her unusual neighbor in order prove to others that dinosaurs still exist. Everyone else Bolivar encounters is too engrossed in their own lives to take note of the dinosaur in their midsts, whether they are reading the newspaper, grocery shopping, or looking at art in museums. Bolivar doesn’t mind so much, as he gets to lead a quiet and pleasant life. However, his everyday routines are interrupted when a busy policeman gives him a parking ticket, sticking it right on his back. When Bolivar insists that he is not a vehicle nor drives one, the officer explains that it’s “not my problem!” and Bolivar must make his way to City Hall to file a complaint. While he’s there, Bolivar is mistaken for the mayor by city employees who are too busy to notice otherwise and he is inadvertently kidnapped, leading him on a whirlwind adventure around the city with Sybil trailing not far behind.
The soft-spoken dinosaur who reads the New Yorker and enjoys live music by subway buskers will capture your heart fully and immediately. Bolivar is a lighthearted story, packed with lots of playful dialogue, despite Sybil’s direct confrontation with Bolivar. Upon accusing him of being a dinosaur, his first reaction is to respond, “Don’t be ridiculous, dinosaurs are extinct. And anyway you shouldn’t talk to strangers.” Young readers are sure to empathize with Sybil’s struggle, a mission to convince others to take her seriously and pay attention to what is right in front of their eyes is a very relatable theme underlying a unique story.
The heart-meltingly cute story is assisted by Bolivar’s very round and cuddly features. In the acknowledgments Rubin notes that this book took five years to illustrate, and it’s easy to see it was a labor of love. Rubin creates beautifully detailed scenes of city life, frequently taking advantage of two page spreads, inviting readers to take their time in poring over the pages. In the first half of the book, when Sybil is tailing Bolivar in order to photograph him, readers will similarly be checking for a glimpse of his tail on every page. Rubin works in several visual jokes, such as a speech bubble censoring a nude statue of Hercules in the art museum, and the notes for one of Bolivar’s mayoral speeches, simply consisting of the word “speech” repeated six times on the page.
The book is a cross between a graphic novel and a picture book, in the sense that there is an ongoing narrative in addition to the traditional panels and speech bubbles. This narrative is very sweetly tied into the story in a way that is only revealed at the end of the book. While the book is rather long compared to most picture books, there is not much text on any given page. The vocabulary is accessible and the content is appropriate for all ages. Though the book is a bit on the expensive side at $29.99, it is sturdily constructed for being so heavy with ink from Rubin’s richly colored illustrations. It’s a bit of an odd size, measuring just under 10 by 10 inches, but should fit well shelved among picture books or juvenile graphic novels.
by Sean Rubin
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12