Written and illustrated by Elys Dolan
For ages 7+
Huge welcome to everyone reading this who found me today via the Walker Books Blog Tour! Lovely to see you! Enjoy a fun Q&A with award-winning creator, Elys Dolan about her ROARsome funny new middle grade for kids. Find out about Dolan's inspirations, her dyslexia, Rex and his buddies, storyline development process, and more.
‘Rex: Dinosaur in Disguise’ is a heartfelt, hilarious and honest story about a t-rex who thaws out 65 million years after the ice age, floats from the Arctic to London in an ice berg and ends up at the Natural History Museum, where he meets a Big Foot (in disguise), who lives with the Loch Ness monster (in disguise) and a not-extinct dodo (in disguise). Got that?? Together they try to blend in with and learn about humans, with hilarious consequences. One human in particular though, Sandra, lives downstairs, and she’s very sleuthy… she’s also not having a great time now her parents have triplet babies to cope with and her bestest friend has left her for the mean girls in the class. Experience life in Rex’s ‘shoes’ as he learns how to talk, write; about money, friendship, getting a job and more… This is a wonderful story of inclusivity and acceptance. With a blend of spacious text, colourful comic strips and plentiful illustrations you can’t go wrong with this book!! Can’t wait to see what Rex gets up to next!!
Q&A with Elys Dolan
Nicci: Congratulations on this super brand new fiction young reader series for Walker Books. Being a busy lecturer and PhD at the Cambridge School of Art, how on earth did you find time to create Rex?
Elys: That’s a good question, it certainly feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day! I have to say though, because I lecture in children’s books I often find that helps inspire new ideas and drives me on to make my own work. And in return making my own work helps inform what and how I teach and keeps my knowledge current. So, I may be quite tired but it is a match made in heaven.
Nicci: This new series seems quite a departure the more political satire inspired picture books like ‘Mr Bunny’s Chocolate Factory’. Was this a conscious departure?
Elys: It doesn’t really feel like a departure to me. Rex is still full of funny bits and at its core has something to say about the world we live in, which are things it shares with Mr Bunny. There’s the difference in format between one being an illustrated novel and the other a picture book, but I was still striving for Rex to have an integral word-image relationship like picture books do because I feel that’s a real strength that illustrated books have to offer.
Nicci: I love that the story features key curriculum themes for 6-9yr olds, e.g. learning about money, the ice age, fitting in, what is ‘normal’, empathy for others. Being a longer text and aimed at independent young readers did you spend time researching the curriculum, or reading other books in this age bracket?
Elys: To be honest with you, I don’t know what’s in the curriculum! The things you mention though feel to me like ideas and questions that we all encounter in our lives. So, it makes sense to me that when writing about a dinosaur trying to figure out what it is to be human that he’d have to get to grips with them too. The exception to that would be the ice age, which isn’t necessarily something I find myself having to contend with on a daily basis, but it certainly was a handy way to transport a t-rex into the modern world.
Nicci: Characters Rex, Dodo, Nessy, Bigfoot and Sandra all have their own individual storylines, as well as them sharing a problem of fitting in and being ‘seen’ for who they really are. How did you go about writing the growth mindset journey for the children who read this book? What would you wish is their key takeaway?
Elys: One of the things I try to do when writing a story is make sure the characters don’t end the book in the same place they started. I should say that’s an emotional place rather than a physical one. I try to consider very carefully what a character might learn from the circumstances I put them into and how it could change them. I think the thing I want readers to take away from the book is the feeling of having read a satisfying story and having had a bit of a laugh, I don’t want to be too insistent about everyone having to have learned a valuable lesson. But then, I wouldn’t be upset it helps readers feel less like they’re on their own when they find navigating the world tricky, and that standing out can sometimes be better than fitting in.
Nicci: There’s a lot of human behaviour observational humour (love the “being in the way” scenarios and the ePad videos brainwashing kids nod to YouTubers) - it this part of your signature style would you say?
Elys: Observational humour is certainly something I find I include a lot. I think it happens because I get inspiration for from the world around me, but when I use those things in my work I present them in an incongruous context or from an unusual viewpoint. This mismatch often seems to have the effect of making them a bit funny.
Nicci: I found it refreshing that the school bullies in this story are girls instead of boys. Was that a conscious decision?
All the bullies I knew at school were girls! So there’s some inspiration from life there, but I also always want to include female characters with true agency that show the full scope of what a woman can be, which includes heroes and villains.
Nicci: On a scale of 1-10, how important are illustrations for books for young readers, in your opinion?
Elys: For my own books I feel like they’re integral. I’m dyslexic and reading was an uphill struggle at times. I found books that were blocks of text quite intimidating but those with pictures drew me in and helps me decode that text. But I do also feel that illustrated books are important for everyone, not just people who can struggle with text. Some things can be conveyed so clearly, viscerally and in a split second through images that it’s a valid form of communication for the majority of readers.
Nicci: Do you draw on your own childhood at all when creating your storylines?
Elys: Definitely. In Rex, when writing about Sandra’s relationship with Maddie, I drew on my own childhood experiences of falling out with friends and how devastating that way. My reactions and feeling from back then are not the same as how I’d handle the same situation as a worn-around-the-edges, thirty-something, children’s book author. I need to have a chat with the 9-year-old me to get the inside scope on things like that.
Nicci: It’s so good to giggle when reading your books. Even when presenting quite sad scenarios, the delicate humour is so clever and subtle along the way - How do you plan in the gags?
Elys: I don’t tend to plan them. Quentin Blake suggests that humour is at its best when it emerges naturally, like a by-product. I find that when I’m exploring a scenario with my characters that things automatically come out as funny, again because I like exploring ideas or situations in an incongruous context and from an unusual viewpoint, or because if I find something I find compelling I exaggerate it.
Nicci: What’s Rex going to be up to next in book 2? When will it be out?
Elys: I don’t want to give the game away, but there’s more mysteries to be solved, a lot of guinea pig action and we might even find out we’re not alone in the galaxy…
Nicci: How many books will there be in the series? Have you already written them?
Elys: There’s going to be 4 in total and I’ve not written them all yet. I’m working on number two and as soon as that’s done I’ll be sinking my teeth into number 3.
Nicci: What’s your coffee habit like compared to Rex at the end of the book? ;)
Elys: Well, I’ve never been sick on my boss because of it, but I recently gave up caffeine while I was pregnant and I got horrendous withdrawal headaches, which should give you an idea of the severity of my coffee habit. Please send help and decaf.
Nicci: If you could create a children’s book satirising the current state of politics what would it be called?
Elys: The sequel to Mr Bunny’s Chocolate Factory, Mayor Bunny’s Chocolate Town, does just that! But if I were to do another, I might call it The Spotters Guide to Parties so that no one can claim to be confused anymore.
Thanks for the super interview, Elys!
About the creator
Elys Dolan (author & illustrator)
Elys Dolan makes picture-books -bout everything from seagull detectives to capitalist bunny wantits and weasels plotting world domination. Slie was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize for Weasels and the Branford Boase for Knighthoad or Beginners, and won the inaugural STEAM Children's Book Prize for How the Borks Became and the prestigious Lollies Prize for Mr Bunny's Chocolate Factory. She is also a lecturer on the MA in Children's Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art.
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Publication date: 2 June 2022
*Walker Books provided me with a review copy of 'Rex: Dinosaur in Disguise'.
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