Book Review: Dinosaur Bob and the Worlds of William Joyce

Dinosaur Bob is a treasure to behold. I fell in love with the book illustrations of William Joyce during a chance encounter with Life With Bob at a garage sale. The cover art caught my eye.

Cover art of Life with Bob. We see Bob having a picnic with the Lazardo family.Flipping through the book I saw Joyce’s drawings capturing the sense of pre-war culture and optimism of 1930s America, modeled with modern flair. The artwork is simply gorgeous. (The art and architecture of the 1930s are a special interest of mine. Fans of Bruce McCall should love Joyce’s style.)

I’m hooked. One way or another I’ll be buying every one of his books for, uh, Little Miss. Yeah, that’s it. For Little Miss.

You’ve likely already seen Joyce’s handiwork. He has done covers for
The New Yorker, New York Times Book Review and Oxford American. There
is his Disney Channel show Rolie Polie Olie and his PBS TV series George Shrinks. Disney will be bringing his book, A Day with Wilbur Robinson, to the big screen in 2007 under the title Meet the Robinsons. Most recently, Joyce was producer and production designer on the film Robots — an exquisite piece of retro future styling wrapped around an
inventive and fun story (except for the typical resort-to-violence
ending).

The Dinosaur Bob series – if you can call it that, the books are more like variations on a theme – has all of those positive qualities, without the violence. Even the police officers cry when they arrest Bob and learn he will be deported. But hey, let’s stop a moment for the backstory.

Bob is the beloved pet of the blissfully rich, yet loving Lazardo family. The Lazardos find Bob during an African vacation and bring him back to their home in Pimlico Hills. Bob chases cars with the neighborhood dogs, but when he catches one the Mayor decrees that Bob must return to Africa. The Lazardos stage a jail break and run away with Bob, but eventually return when they get homesick. No worries. Bob joins the losing Pimlico Pirates baseball team and carries the team and town to victory. Everyone rejoices!

It doesn’t have to make sense. Dinosaur Bob lives in a world of whimsy. The great thing is that if your toddler enjoys the board book, she can eventually enjoy the expanded story in the hardcover edition. Bob grows with your child.

Kids will see a green dinosaur romping on an adventure. Parents will see rich detail. For example, when Bob lifts a car in his mouth, we see the car’s occupants, a group of dogs watching from the street, a policeman telling Bob to stop, numerous onlookers in the street and nearby windows, and even an artist — presumably William Joyce himself — painting a green dinosaur on an easel in his second floor studio.

There are several versions of the Bob story that are based on the hardcover version of the story.

The books:

Hardcover printed in 1995/99: Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo — This is the largest or longest version of the Bob story, for ages 4 to 8. The book touts 16 new pages of story and art, plus the lyrics to The Ballad of Dinosaur Bob (sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne). ISBN: 0060210745. A book by the same name was printed in 1989, presumably with 16 fewer pages.

Board Book printed in 1995: Life with Bob –  This is a shorter and simpler version of the Bob story oriented toward younger kids. Because it has detailed artwork and some semblance of a plot, it’s best for toddlers (24 months?) who can follow a story. My 14-month-old isn’t quite there yet. The African trip, jail break and baseball game in the hardcover are omitted here. A nighttime jail break scene moving through a darkened street has been refashioned as a game of hide-and-seek. ISBN: 0694011819

Board Book printed in 1998: Dinosaur Bob — This book is also a simplified telling of the hardcover book with some plot points removed and others changed. Some new artwork is featured. ISBN: 0694011789

Board Book printed in 1999: Baseball Bob — This is a more detailed telling of the baseball portion of Bob’s exploits. The lyrics to
The Ballad of Dinosaur Bob (sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne) are included. ISBN: 0694011800

Additional links:

Large inside image from the Bob hardcover book [Harper Collins Canada]

William Joyce’s personal web site

William Joyce’s web site at Harper Collins

William Joyce’s older semi-functional web site at Harper Collins

The wonderful world of William Joyce [Background article from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin]

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