CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 9 . . . . January 3, 2003
Penny "For Your Thoughts" Moonstar hosts a segment, 'Weird Science,' on the television program, 'CoolSchool,' a collaborative project between Badlands Middle School and the local cable station. She is determined to broadcast a segment from the Badlands. Penny, short for Pentacrinis (a sea lily fossil) and her brother, Perry, short for Perigrine, are to tag along with their father Ben, short for Bentonite (a rock) on one of his geological excursions to the Badlands. Mother Meadowlark (an environmental designer) stays at home.
While in the Badlands, Penny meets up with Albert O. Saurus, an Albertasaurus. Penny thinks Albert would be safer incognito. Albert, "who stands 3 meters - or ten feet - tall at the hip" (p. 43), disguises himself as a Russian rock star on tour. No one in the story recognizes Albert as a dinosaur, not even when he pokes the display Albertasaurus with his talon.
There are some bikers who are interested in Albert for all the wrong reasons, and they finally catch up with Penny, Perry and Albert on the trails at the Tyrell Museum. The Moonstar family are victorious. Albert ends up staying hidden in the Badlands, but he is able to communicate with the outside world through a computer that his friend Joseph Wolf Tail leaves for him. Joseph Wolf Tail is an aboriginal on a vision quest introduced to readers in the Prologue. He is inserted into the story a couple of times to keep the plot going.
Gerri Cook writes for television, and this book reads like a television program. There is more tell than show which is a pity given the hauntingly breathtaking, unearthly beauty of this story's setting. More attention to detail pertaining to the museum and other surrounding sites could only enhance the drama. For example, more could be said about the Bleriot Ferry, a unique flat-topped barge that is operated by a system of pulleys across the Red Deer River. A Penny for Albert has all the right ingredients for a grade 4 to 6 chapter book (dinosaurs, a mystery, a happy family, biker bad-guys, and a romantic setting), but unfortunately they just don't come together. The illustrations do nothing to help readers with the illusion that Albert is a touring Russian rock star.
Lethbridge, AB’s Ruth Scales McMahon is the co-chair of the Rocky Mountain Book Award and an Alberta immigrant mesmerized by the Badlands and their prehistoric stories.
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