BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations
Today we feature a Q&A with author Jeff Norton, whose new book Dino Knights is available now.
Read on as review panel member David tells us what to expect of the book, followed by an exclusive Q&A in which we chat to Jeff all about his alternative Medieval setting where dinosaurs still exist as well as his own enjoyment of children's literature.
Book Title: Dino Knights (available here)
Author: Jeff Norton
Illustrator: George Ermos
Publisher: Awesome Reads
Publication Date: 6th June 2019
Most Suitable For: Lower KS2
Reviewed By: David Keyte, Teacher & Reading Lead
A historical hybrid of Jurassic and Medieval eras, Dino Knights is a fast paced adventure that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat.
Dino Knights is an action-packed book that centres around the story of Henry Fairchild, a mere stable boy, who is called into action to save his beloved Brecklan from enemy threat. Henry dreams of joining the illustrious ‘Dino Knights’, but has spent years in the background, preparing their animals and hearing of their tales from afar. One day Henry's talents are recognized and he is given the opportunity to join the action. Henry’s unique bond with the animals, patience and ability to work as part of a team, place him in a pivotal position to save Lord Harding and Lady Anwyn from enemy threat.
This book combines a fun and imaginative story with some important messages of hope, courage, self-belief, animal cruelty, and a nod to the fact that good really can prevail over evil if the right person is there to save the day. As a year 4 teacher, I feel confident that this will prove a very popular addition to my classroom bookshelf and can wholeheartedly agree with the suggestion on the back cover that this would be a book that appeals strongly to fans of Beast Quest and How to Train Your Dragon.
There is some lovely additional information in the acknowledgements section of this book, highlighting how the idea for this story was born. The image of a father using figurines to entertain his young child evolves into a published book, serving as a nod to the importance of imagination, and this message could certainly be shared with students or perhaps incorporated into a writing sequence in the classroom.
I really enjoyed reading Dino Knights and am intrigued by what adventures await Henry and his friends in the sequel…
with Jeff Norton, author of Dino Knights
Can you tell us about the book in 5 words?
Bravery, loyalty, dinosaurs (see, I did it in only three!).
The story is set in an alternative Medieval Period where dinosaurs still exist. Can you explain what drew you to this period of history?
I thought it would be fun to explore a time period when humans relied very heavily on symbiotic relationship with animals, and so I’ve basically replaced horses with dinosaurs. The exact time period was dictated by my son, Torin, who first put a toy knight on the back of a plastic dinosaur while we were awake and playing in the middle of the night. I suppose I could’ve changed to cowboys on dinosaurs or Victorian cab drivers on dinos, but I think Torin was onto something special with his pairing of knights and dinos!
What is your favourite dinosaur and why?
I’m particularly fond of the Albertosaurus because it’s Canadian (and so am I!).
We were particularly excited to see that Dino Knights is pitched at readers in the 7-9 age bracket. What were the joys and challenges of writing for this age group?
I have two boys. Caden is nine and Torin will be seven next year, so I’ve found from personal experience that this is an under-served age group. There are some incredible older middle-grade books (I am a huge Philip Reeve fan, and I think Robin Stevens’ books are fantastic), but those books are often very long and contain vocabulary that can be challenging for the younger readers. I’m very interested in building life-long readers and ensuring that from a very young age reading is a major component of any young person’s entertainment mix. I’m no Luddite and I love TV (and make TV!), but I think there is a wonderful opportunity (that starts with toddlers and picture books) to make reading the bedrock of pop culture for young people.
In the story, main character Henry has to find courage in a number of dangerous situations. What would you say to young readers who feel like it is hard to be brave right now?
The world can feel like a scary place right now. The funny thing (well, actually not that funny) is that I suspect it’s always felt that way. I vividly remember being in 6th grade (the Canadian equivalent of Year 6) and witnessing both the Challenger disaster and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. It felt like a scary time. I believe courage comes from individuals being accountable for their own actions and making decisions, on the margin, to choose goodness and kindness and to stick up for those who can’t stick up for themselves. Today’s young people give me a lot of hope. I see a lot of courage and bravery among them, and the thing I would say is that there is strength in numbers and even if you feel alone, you are not alone. Chances are, in your school or in your neighbourhood, there are others that feel just like you.
How have your own experiences of childhood reading shaped the way you write for children?
This is probably a blasphemous thing to share on this website, but I hated reading when I was young. I found it hard and boring! I felt stupid a lot of the time because I just wasn’t “winning” at reading. It took me a long time to find anything in a book that was as interesting or compelling as the incredible films at the cinema (I grew up with the great Spielberg films of the 80s: E.T., Back To The Future, and greats like Ghostbusters and Goonies) so I try to write in a way that’s visual, entertaining and full of fun hooks. I think that reading should be fun, not hard work.
That’s not to say I don’t challenge my readers, I do. I don’t write down to anyone. I use big words sometimes, but I never want to make a reader feel stupid. I’m also not afraid to present big ideas to young people. Dino Knights is fundamentally about the notion of personal accountability. My older middle-grade novel, Alienated, is about finding the balance between fitting in and standing out. MetaWars is about choice. Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie is about the importance of self-love. And my YA novel, Keeping the Beat, is about the dangers of complicity. I suppose from my personal experience, I think books should ignite the imagination and challenge the mind.
We’ve heard a rumour about Dino Knights is being developed for television. Can you tell us more about what we can expect from the TV adaptation?
It’s early days, but we’ve got a great team on the project. The books are being adapted by two companies working together. OmniFilm Entertainment from Vancouver initially optioned the book and shared my vision for a live-action version of the show. We then partnered with The Jim Henson Company who have made their name with live-action creature effects (be sure to check out their new Dark Crystal prequel coming late summer to Netflix). The show will be called ‘Knights of Panterra’ and if we pull it off as I expect we will, it should be like Game of Thrones for family audiences.
Which other children’s books are you loving right now?
I get to read over the shoulder of both of my boys, so I’m enjoying Frank Cottrell Boyce, The Roman Mysteries, and the adventures of Atticus Claw.
Jeff Norton is the author of the new novel, Dino Knights. He’s on the web at www.jeffnorton.com
Many thanks to Jeff for answering our questions and to Review Panel member David for reviewing the book, provided to us for review by the publisher.
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