Random House has just sent me a new release that is bound to be popular with adventurous 7+ readers who love dinosaurs: the series is called Robert Irwin Dinosaur Hunter and there are four titles, with a further four due for release later this year:
- The Discovery (Robert Irwin, Dinosaur Hunter)
- Ambush at Cisco Swamp (Robert Irwin, Dinosaur Hunter)
- Armoured Defence (Robert Irwin, Dinosaur Hunter)
- The Dinosaur Feather (Robert Irwin, Dinosaur Hunter)
The books feature Robert Irwin of Australia Zoo fame and his adventures as a keen dinosaur hunter. The first one, The Discovery, features Robert enjoying his ninth birthday present, a trip to the Dinosaur Museum at Winton. He has a friend called Riley (who is the object of some rather patronising characterisation) and he makes an improbable discovery of a fossil which leads to some not very convincing time travel. No 2, Ambush at Cisco Swamp finds Robert and Riley at Cisco Swamp in Texas for an alligator survey where his dinosaur fossil takes him back in time again, and yes, Armoured Defence, set in the Canadian Badlands (No 3) and The Dinosaur Feather (back in Australia at the Australia Zoo (No 4) are more or less exactly the same formula. I suspect that most kids are not going to mind the rather weak narrative at all, but will appreciate the familiarity in much the same way as they appreciate the weak narratives and predictable characterisation of Enid Blyton books. At least these are Australian!
For older students investigating marketing, decoding the copyright page might be an interesting exercise. The publicity material and the website tell us that the books are ‘co-created’ by nine year-old Robert Irwin and his name is the one that’s on the copyright page. His cute picture is on the front cover too – but the title page suggests that the series is actually written by author Jack Wells. Robert Irwin is also ‘proud that his illustrations appear in the books’, and so they do, identified as ‘drawn by Robert Irwin’ at the back of the book where the facts about the dinosaurs are, but the copyright page names the illustrator as Lauchlan Creagh who presumably did the full-page B&W drawings that feature within the text. (The books aren’t as profusely illustrated as you might expect in books for this age group). There is also a message enticing the reader to scan the QR code on the back of the book, which could lead to an interesting discussion about the use of these codes as part of an advertising strategy.
It’s tempting to dismiss the series as a clever marketing exercise, latching onto the popularity of young Robert Irwin and the tourism that goes with him, but the books will appeal to young readers, especially boys at that difficult age when they start to abandon reading. They will like the adventure, the humour, the field guide at the back of the book and the easy reading, and unless they have been under a rock and have missed the hype about the junior Irwins, they will enjoy identifying with the famous young hero as well. I think they will be very successful in school reading schemes of one sort or another, and that parents will happily respond to pleas to buy the next one in the series.
However, they’re not as well written, well plotted or as exciting as Penguin’s Extreme Adventure series (Puffin) by Justin D’Ath, which I read to my Year 5 & 6 students when we do our Extreme Holidays projects (researching landscapes of the world, you can download the unit from here). Hopefully the Dinosaur Hunter series would lead young readers on to explore these titles as well: