How Barnum Brown Discovered
the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World
By Tracey Fern. Pictures by Boris Kulikov.
Farrar Straus Giroux. $17.99. Ages 5 and up.
Like the circus showman he was named for, Barnum Brown (1873-1963) was raised to think big — in his case, dinosaur big. He dug far and wide and deep, discovering more dinosaur bones than anyone else ever has. And in the badlands near Hell Creek, Mont., he was the first to find the king of them all, Tyrannosaurus rex. In this engaging picture-book biography, Tracey Fern and illustrator Boris Kulikov supply many distinctive details about Brown, including the spiffy wardrobe he favored and the dancing talents he would occasionally unleash. But they focus on the excitement of fossil hunting. Barnum evidently felt this enthusiasm early on, following his father’s plow to collect the small, ancient treasures it unearthed. His mentor at New York City’s Museum of Natural History thought Barnum “must be able to smell fossils,” but he apparently relished the work involved on and off the digging site. Kulikov’s inventive, playfully skewed illustrations capture Barnum’s ardent curiosity and forceful presence — he often appears larger than life, as when he’s diving off of “Cuba” (seemingly just a few yards wide) to retrieve a fossil. On the last spread, the scale seems about right, but the concept is truly wild: Barnum Brown riding a very-much-alive T. rex through Central Park. He’s so cool he doesn’t need a saddle.