Dinosaurs and Turtles

Dinosaurs and Turtles

When I was in college, my academic ramblings took me to Cal State Long Beach for a program to earn a secondary-school teaching credential in English and history. I lived in the dorm, and down the hall was a young man named Mark Hallett.   

Mark was shy, like me, and he could draw like nobody’s business. He loved animals, and I would sit and watch them emerge from the tip of his pencil. I began dreaming of animals and how children enjoy reading about them, and a story popped into my head.  

What if a loud, rude, obnoxious boy named Arthur woke up one morning to find that he had turned into the slowest, most peaceful animal of all—a turtle? I wrote up the story, showed it to Mark, and he agreed to illustrate it. We called it The Great Fourth of July Turtle Race.   

Mark got to work, and soon we had sample illustrations to go with the manuscript. I looked up children’s publishers in a wondrous guide to getting published called Writer’s Market, and we began submitting.   

Nothing happened.

Well, something happened: publishers said no, over and over again. I couldn’t understand it. If only I could talk to the editors we were submitting to, tell them how good the story was, and possibly shake them by the lapels. I was sure I could convince them.  

I recently came across that manuscript in some old files. The story was pretty good, but the illustrations were better. Arthur came to life in those pictures, just as, in the years since, dinosaurs have come to life in Hallett’s magnificent paintings, which can be found in museums around the world. The painting above, for example, is described by Mark as a detail from a paleo faunal scene (Late Cretaceous Mongolia).  

Mark even invented a word for his science-based imagery: paleoart. I’m proud that Arthur was one of his earliest creations.   

        -From My Life with Books


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