A Dino Delight for Readers: DACTYL HILL SQUAD

Lynn: Kids love dinosaurs and they love books about dinosaurs. So all I really have to say is that we have a fun and very different book for your dinosaur-loving readers

This inventive adventure story is set in an alternate America. It is 1863, and in this world, while the Civil War rages, dinosaurs not only still live but Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Olderhave become domesticated. They are used for public transportation, air travel, shipping and in military battles. Daniel José Older explores this fascinating premise in Dactyl Hill Squad (2018), which opens with protagonist Magdalys Roca and a group of friends from the Colored Orphan Asylum on a field trip to the theater in New York when the Draft Riots break out. Magdalys escapes, but many of her fellow orphans are kidnapped by the dastardly magistrate Richard Riker.

Fleeing to Brooklyn and the Dactyl Hill neighborhood, Magdalys and some of her friends join the Vigilance Committee, a group dedicated to rescuing black New Yorkers whom Riker has kidnapped. The orphans train to fly on pterodactyls to join the adults fighting against Riker, spying and carrying messages for them. Magdalys discovers that she has the ability to communicate telepathically with dinosaurs, and she and her friends from the Dactyl Hill Squad are determined to free their captive friends before Riker sends them south to slavery. When serious battles begin, Magdalys’ abilities help lead the way.

One of the features I loved most was the back matter! Older provides notes on the people, places and dinos of Dactyl Hill Squad. Since some of the people and places are real, this engaging section adds important historical information. Kids will be amazed that Magistrate Riker was a real person who really did lead a kidnapping club. He also includes notes on the various dinosaurs, weapons used, and a glossary of some of the historic slang he mixes in with modern dialogue.

This is one wild dinosaur ride packed with cinematic action. Exploration of racism and prejudice and questions of where primary loyalties lie add some heft to this first in a stomping good series.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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