Review of Lulu and the Brontosaurus, by Judith Viorst

Lulu and the Brontosaurus

by Judith Viorst
illustrated by Lane Smith

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, 2010. 113 pages.
Starred Review

Last September, at the National Book Festival, I got to hear Judith Viorst read from this book, and I was eager to get my hands on it from that moment on.

This is definitely a book that begs to be read aloud. The biggest catch is that it’s really too long for preschool story time. Still, I think any elementary school teacher or librarian could have an entire classroom eating out of the palm of their hand by reading this book.

I must say that Lane Smith was the absolutely perfect choice for illustrating this book. The pictures match the irreverent, over-the-top tone and make the story absolutely right. (I wonder what would have happened if Lane Smith had illustrated Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? Anyway, that book’s so good, I wouldn’t change a thing — and this book is the same.)

This book is perfect for reading aloud because the author takes an irreverent, in-your-face, obtrusive tone. The very first page sets the tone. (Imagine typefaces to match.)

“OKAY! All right! You don’t have to tell me! I know!

“I know that people and dinosaurs have never lived on Earth at the same time. And I know that dinosaurs aren’t living now. I even also know that paleontologists (folks who study dinosaurs) decided that a dinosaur that was once called a brontosaurus (a very nice name) shouldn’t be called brontosaurus anymore, and changed it to apatosaurus (a kind of ugly name). But since I’m the person writing this story, I get to choose what I write, and I’m writing about a girl and a B R O N T O S A U R U S. So if you don’t want to read this book, you can close it up right now — you won’t hurt my feelings. And if you still want to read it, here goes:

“Chapter One

“There once was a girl named Lulu, and she was a pain. She wasn’t a pain in the elbow. She wasn’t a pain in the knee. She was a pain — a very big pain — in the b u t t.”

Okay, I went on past the first page. But since this is my review, and I’m the one writing it, I can do what I want. Oops. The style’s rubbing off on me.

Well, Lulu decides she wants a brontosaurus for a birthday present. Her parents, who are used to indulging her every whim, are stymied as to how to comply. They end up actually telling Lulu “No.” Lulu, predictably, throws a fit.

“Four days, eight days, ten days, twelve days passed. Lulu kept saying, ‘I WANT A BRONTOSAURUS.’ Her mom and her dad just kept on saying no. Lulu kept screeching and throwing herself on the floor and kicking her heels and waving her arms. Lulu’s mom and her dad kept saying no. Until finally, on the thirteenth day, the day before Lulu’s birthday, right after lunch, Lulu said to her mom and her dad, ‘Okay then, foo on you.’ (She had terrible manners.) ‘If you aren’t going to get me a brontosaurus, I’m going out and getting one for myself.'”

So Lulu sets off into the forest, singing:

“I’m gonna, I’m gonna, I’m gonna, gonna get
A bronto-bronto-bronto Brontosaurus for a pet.
I’m gonna, I’m gonna, I’m gonna, gonna get
A bronto-bronto-bronto Brontosaurus for a pet.”

She encounters various dangerous creatures, and gets the better of all of them with her pugnacious ingenuity — until at last she meets a brontosaurus.

And when she meets the brontosaurus, whom she calls Mr. B, there is a lovely reversal that teaches Lulu a nice lesson.

Just to keep things interesting (as if they weren’t already!), the author gives us a choice of three endings, so the reader can decide for themselves how happily to let things end. And did I mention the perfect illustrations on almost every set of pages?

As I look through this book again, I notice that besides being a phenomenal read-aloud, it’s also a true stand-out in the elusive category of chapter books for beginning readers. The chapters are extremely short — usually only a couple pages; there are lots of pictures; but the story is completely delightful and absorbing. Definitely a non-threatening and highly enjoyable reading experience.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

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