I’m always on the lookout for interesting all-ages books, so I was intrigued when I got a press release for “Terra Tempo: The Four Corners of Time” from Craigmore Creations out of Portland, Ore. (a very nice city).
Co-founder and writer David Shapiro is a naturalist, and the company’s goal is to get a new generation excited by natural history. And what better way to do that than with a graphic novel about dinosaurs?
OK, “Terra Tempo” isn’t about dinosaurs. It’s about the three kids who go time traveling millions of years into the past and see the dinosaurs up close — and other adventures. It’s also fairly educational, but not in a dry, lecturing sort of way.
In the first volume, “Terra Tempo: Ice Age Cateclysm,” naturally curious siblings Jenna and Caleb go snooping around in their uncle’s office and find a map. Along with their paleontology-obsessed friend Ari, they discover the map is a time travel device. It takes them back to the end of the Ice Age, where they see camelops, a couple species of mammoth (wooly and not), Quentin’s pronghorns and a massive flood over what is now Portland, Ore.
They’re aided by a giant bird they can summon when needed, whom Jenna names Yakama. They fly around, see some sights and head home, where they uncle is waiting for them. He explains a bit about time travel, emphasizes the need to be careful and warns them not to tell anybody. Then they all go home.
Things really pick up in the second volume, published last month. Ari has found another map, one that can take them to various ages before and during the reign of the dinosaurs. They also discover they’re not the only time travelers and get chased through the ages by a couple goons who want to steal the map. But they also meet some nicer time travelers, who explain more about the maps and the people who created them.
“Four Corners” is a much more satisfying (and longer) adventure. I could hear the “duhn duhn duuuuuuuhnnn” in my head at the end of the first chapter. It gives the kids something else to worry about (besides dinosaurs eating them) and adds some true conflict to the story. And except for one nagging plot hole, it’s a truly engaging tale. In a few asides, the characters briefly mention the common potential problems with time travel (Butterfly Effect, paradox, etc.) but Shapiro isn’t going to let details like that get in the way of his story.
The kids also do some typical stupid kid stuff. (Really, you’re being shot at and don’t bother to mention it to the time-traveling uncle who can probably help you?) But I’m an adult reading this book. It can be enjoyed by kids much younger than I am who probably won’t fret over that kind of plot point. With no swearing and minimal violence (almost no blood — just fighting dinosaurs), the book can probably go 8 and older.
The art ranges from serviceable to quite dynamic. When Christopher Herndon gets close to his characters, he does some great facial shots. (I particularly liked a bit where the kids joke about forming a band called the Great Unconformity. It was one of several nice character details in both writing and art. Herndon’s prehistoric mammals and dinosaurs aren’t bad, either.
If you know kids interested in earth sciences, especially dinosaurs and the like (but you also get a lot of history and geology), this will be a fun read for them. You and your inner 12-year-old, too.
Part of me wants to simply recommend buying the second volume (all you need to know is explained in an author’s note) because the first one, for all its action, is still a bit on the dull side. But I’m also a completist, and it would have bugged me to not read the first one. So get them both and help support a small press doing good stuff for kids.
You can buy them both direct from the Craigmore Creations website, where you can even get a copy of “Ice Age Cataclysm” bundled with a cute plush Smilodon, aka the misnamed sabre-tooth tiger. They also have buttons, T-shirts, a poster and more.