My story starts in March 2010 when the sort of project that makes an agent’s life a joy arrived on my desk. Carefully wrapped in tissue paper, three full colour pictures lay before me which featured in glorious realism a triceratops driving a loader, a tyrannosaurus operating an excavator and a stegosaurus crouched over the wheel of a dumper truck. This was the birth of the bestselling Dinosaur Dig series, created by writer and artist Penny Dale. For me, as for the many children who have since become enraptured by Dinosaur Dig and its successors, it was love at first sight.
I’d represented author and artist Penny Dale, as her agent, for over fifteen years when this new parcel arrived and had previously gloried in the two million copy bestselling success of her gentle classic Ten in the Bed. Dinosaur Dig was a complete departure: a full-on celebration of the macho world of dinosaur brawn and a fantastical flight of fantasy about the way such creatures would interact with heavy machinery, all served up with Penny’s delicious wit. This fresh new world seemed to need a fresh new publishing approach and Nosy Crow, the vibrant new kid on the children’s publishing block, seemed the perfect home. Kate Wilson and Camilla Reid shared all my enthusiasm and within three days of my showing them the material the dinosaurs and their trucks had a home.
Dinosaur Dig was published in May 2011; Dinosaur Zoom in August 2012 and Dinosaur Rescue) now in January 2014. Each book has its favourite moments for me – the insouciance of the megalosaurus as he drives his convertible though the Arizona desert with all the cool of Hunter S. Thompson; the care with which the tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops organise the backing of lorries in the forest glade; the dormitory scene of dinosaurs sleeping in their bunks at the end of Dinosaur Rescue. Nothing in either text or illustration talks down to the child. The dinosaurs are gloriously realistic and questions such as how to fit five dinosaurs in the front of a rescue truck are tackled by the artist with exactly the same seriousness as that with which a child would address such a problem. The books represent a rare conjunction of fantastical flamboyance and minute attention to detail which precisely reflects a child’s mind.
I knew the books would be a success: had the hairs not stood up on the back of my neck when I first saw Dinosaur Dig? But it was still thrilling to check in every bit of good news as it arrived from the Crow’s Nest. First co-edition sales of over 70,000 copies for Dinosaur Dig to Candlewick in the USA, Carlsen in Germany, Gallimard in France, Makela in Finland and Heibei in China. Strong retail support for each new book on the high street with particular enthusiasm from Waterstones and WH Smith. Promotional attention from wholesalers such as Gardners and Peters. The emergence of chunky board book editions for each title. Stellar sales in Australia where the publisher made its own promotional video. Success in America, often rare for a UK-originated picture book. Fabulous reviews including ‘a roaring delight’ from The Guardian and a description as a winner in ‘the nighttime battle over bedtime stories’ by the Sunday Telegraph. And watch this SPACE because in the not too distant future those dinosaurs will be cramming their heavy bodies into rockets. One small step for a dinosaur, one giant leap for dinosaurkind!
Caroline Sheldon runs the eponymous Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency and represents a bestselling roster of writers and illustrators for children. Dinosaur Rescue is out this month – you can take a look inside below, and order the book online here.