Never underestimate the power of a child on a dinosaur.
This historical fantasy is set during the Civil War and draws on actual events: the New York City draft riots and the burning of the Colored Orphan Asylum in July of 1863. In this version of that time, dinosaurs are still around, having been domesticated and put into use for various tasks. The story revolves around Magdalys Roca and her friends who live at the Colored Orphan Asylum. During a field trip to a theater they get caught up in the draft riots and find their orphanage has been burned to the ground. Even scarier, they are almost captured by the Kidnapping Club, a group of men who abduct colored people and sell them south into slavery. Magdalys, (who discovers she can somehow psychically communicate, understand and control dinosaurs), and the other orphans along with a few performers from the theater fight their way to safety aboard a brachiosaur. They find a safe house on Dactyl Hill, named for the pterodactyls who nest there. The crew learns that the Kidnapping Club has captured most of the colored orphans and is planning to sell them into slavery. With the help of a few adults and some powerful dinos, the children lead the battle against the kidnappers to free their friends.
Older successfully tells a story of brave children set inside the brutal reality of abuse of people of color by pro-slavery profiteers, riots, lynchings and the Civil War. The inclusion of dinosaurs ratchets up the excitement in the most dramatic scenes. The narrative doesn’t sugar coat the threats to the characters of color present during that time, but still makes the issues accessible to younger readers, say 10 and up. I admit to giving a side eye to the idea of dinosaurs + civil war, but I have to say, it really works.
Daniel José Older, Dactyl Hill Squad, Arthur A. Levine
Note: You can find this book at your local bookstore on September 11th.