Monday, July 16, 2012

A childhood favorite: The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek

Do you have a favorite book from your childhood that nobody's ever heard of?

Well, I can't really mean nobody, we have the intertubes now and "nobody" means, oh, dozens minimally, maybe hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands; as opposed to everybody, which means something on the scale, perhaps, of the twenty-five million kulture vultures following Justin Bieber's tweets as of last week.

As I  write this post there are seventy ratings of The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek on Goodreads, and 15 reviews (average rating: 4.14 out of 5). Amazon's got 24 (4.9 of 5). Barnes and Noble has two (3 of 5). Apple's iTunes never heard of the title, which figures because it's not an e-book, never mind an iBook.

I read Evelyn Sibley Lampman's book when I was a kid, and I loved it ... though back then I wasn't in the habit of giving books star-ratings, I'm pretty sure I'd have scored it a solid five of five if anybody had put the question to me.

And yet. Nobody I've ever asked in the current century (with the exception of my siblings) have heard of the story.

Purple House Press, of Cynthiana, Kentucky has a banner across its website that reads: Bringing back the Finest in children's books! Here's their blurb for The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek, which the press re-published in a new edition in May, 2001:
Suppose you were hunting around in the desert for a fossil and instead you found a real (and very large) dinosaur, genus Stegosaurus. Joan and Joey Brown did! Only nobody would believe they had found one, which was just as well because George (as they called him) was very shy.

He was a loyal friend, though, and he did his best to help the twins with their schemes to make money to finance their mother's dry little ranch on Cricket Creek. George ate sagebrush, looked for fossils, and fought an airplane (which he thought was a pterodactyl) with faithful enthusiasm, but his nut-sized brain often made him more hindrance than help. Especially when he went after the bank robber!

Mrs. Lampman has told her hilarious story so convincingly that you'll be looking for dinosaurs around every mesa. And who knows? Maybe you'll find one!
That's not the most compelling blurb I've ever read -- of course, I'm reading through adult eyes and corrective lenses nowadays, perhaps not the ideal perspective for reading blurbs on YA fiction -- but it does touch on the essential point.

When I was nine or ten, the aspect of this book that rocked my world was the idea that a kid (like me!) could make friends with an actual, living dinosaur (!), who talked (!!) and had a personality even (!!!). Now, re-reading this book as an adult, I freely admit it's not so magical as I found it back in my elementary school days. But there you have it. As Thomas Wolfe put it, You Can't Go Home Again (1607 Goodreads ratings, 3.99 / 5 stars). And, just for the record, on the question of meeting a real live dinosaur as a conceptual novelty -- I was nine or ten a good long while before Jurassic Park came to a movie theater near me, even a couple of decades before Michael Crichton published the novel on which the movie was based (277,877 ratings on Goodreads, 3.72 of 5 stars).

I've got  my old Scholastic Book Service edition of  The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek on my shelves beside other obscure childhood favorites -- like About Jerry and Jimmy and the Pharmacist, by Frances B. Thompson, which Google seems to have digitized but has to be several orders of magnitude more obscure than Lampman's book; and The Little Engine that Could, which is still in print.

Prove me wrong: was The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek one of your favorites too? Heck, I'd settle for 'read it and hated it' ...

What's your favorite childhood book that nobody's ever heard of?


Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Riding a novel to India's Sundarbans
Old books, new insights
Slow reading: Tolstoy's War and Peace

8 comments:

  1. I loved The Shy Steg as a kid. The Claremont branch of the library has a copy. And the book is still in print. So it's not completely obscure.

    I'm not clear on whether the sequel, The Shy Stegosaurus of Indian Springs, is still print. But it's available at BPL if you want to catch up on ol' Shy's subsequent adventures.

    Have you ever read The Moonball by Ursula Moray Williams? A strange living ball drops out of a thunderstorm into a cricket field (it's England).

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  2. @Glenn -- Great, I'm not the only one! I remember The Shy Stegosaurus of Indian Springs only vaguely, I don't remember being so enamored of it as I was of the first book. I don't know The Moonball, though ...

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  3. Steve, You just didn’t talk to the right person! My copy of The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek is on the shelf behind me, sandwiched in between Two on an Island by Bianca Bradbury and Johnny Tremain. The most reread book of my childhood which I LOVED every time was Danger at Dry Creek: Tales of Wells Fargo by Irving Werstein. Mine was the only copy that I ever saw until I Googled it just now. My copy was hard cover and brown with a diamond pattern. The pictures online are NOT my beloved copy. I also loved Sprockets a Little Robot by Alexander Key.

    My dad traveled a lot when I was young. He was also on call many evenings. He was not much of a reader. My love of reading was something that made me unique in my family. I have a very special memory of my dad and I reading a book together that came from school. I was in first or second grade. It was a multi evening activity that may have been tied to a project. I remember LOVING the book and the specialness of reading it with my dad. The only thing that I could remember about the book was that it was about a bear. It always really bugged me that I couldn’t remember the name or much about the story. I asked my dad about it as a “thirty something” and he had no memory of the book or reading it with me. Out of nowhere, I found the book at a yard sale for my kid’s school. I was sorting books and I picked up Arctos, the Grizzly. It hit me like a bolt of lightning. I still didn’t really “remember the name,” but I knew this was the book. It is part of an old text book series. I started to cry before I even cracked the cover. My dad still doesn’t remember and the adult Nancy does not find any magic in the story. I still love having the book because it is a tangible connection to a special event in my life. It also reminds me that kids are not homunculi. This reminder keeps me out of hot water constantly.

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  4. @Nancy -- Obviously I didn't! That's fabulous, a Little Gidding moment (Eliot):

    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.


    That's a fantastic story about Arctos, the Grizzly, and how it turned out to be so much about your relationship to your dad, never mind the story. I'm thinking it's pretty handy to remember that kids != homunculi when you're an elementary school teacher!

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  5. Steve, The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek is still one of my favourites to this day. I remember it every time I eat carrots!
    However, the top of my list is reserved for canine adventures, such as Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walt Morey, Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard and, of course, White Fang by Jack London (no relation), particularly the part where Judge Scott lost the bet with Wilson over the chicken coop. It reminds me that those of the canine persuasion are often smarter than we human give them credit for.

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  6. @Jonathan London: Thanks for weighing in! The canine adventure book that pulled at my heartstrings as a kid was Where The Red Fern Grows. I read White Fang but it's all hazed over in my memory ... I don't think I read either the Morey or Kjelgaard books. Maybe because I ended up being more of a cat person??

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  7. As a kid I absolutely loved this book and I was so sad when George ruined his "hot spring". Amazing how long ago memories like that can come back in a flash. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    Matt

    PS: Interestingly I grew up to *BE* a dinosaur... as IBM mainframe operators are sometimes called.

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  8. Loved this book! Thanks for providing me with the names of the twins...I was looking for those.

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