Portland, Oregon’s Craigmore Creations has a very noble goal: Make natural history fun for kids. For a subject that could wind up being somewhat boring, they do an excellent job and make their books fun and interesting. Some of their books, such as Blunderbuss Wanderlust, go about this in a silly, cartoonish way, while others like Right Where You Are Now take a more direct approach, but they all succeed in being incredibly fun. If they had been around when I was a kid, I would have devoured these books.
I have a fascination with intense facial hair, most likely because I can’t grow much myself, so I constantly find myself in awe of men with impressive beards and mustaches. Great men like Ron Swanson, Ron Burgundy, and the newest member of the club, Colonel Victor Von Vector. Blunderbuss Wanderlust, or by its impressively long full title, Blunderbuss Wanderlust: Being An Account of The Temporal Travels of Colonel Victor Von Vector and The Eras of His Ways, focuses on the titular Colonel and his adventures through time. Armed with a Blunderbuss that when fired, and for no other reason than it’s awesome, propels him back in time, Col. Von Vector blasts his way through every pre-human era encountering history’s most deadly creatures. The book’s text, rhyming verse written by David Shapiro, manages to be both entertaining and informative. The Colonel’s encounters with the creatures of old are exciting and cleverly written, and even made me laugh out loud a few times. The only real issue I had with the prose is that it occasionally gets a tad clunky, but that’s only because it’s somewhat difficult to elegantly rhyme something with a word like “Dunkleosteus”. But Shapiro tries his best. The art is also rather wonderful. Christopher Herndon’s creatures are both stylized and realistic, and the Colonel is one of my favorite characters to simply look at that I’ve encountered in a while. If I can read a book where I can see a man with a wonderful bouquet of facial hair stare down a dinosaur while brandishing a blunderbuss and learn something along the way then I’m a happy reader.
The other Craigmore book I picked up (at NYCC), is Right Where You Are Now (Words by Lisa Montierth, illustrations by Ashley Burke). It is a simple, smart and effective children’s picture book about the ways Earth has changed over the years. The structure is simple: “Right where you are now, (you sleep in a house/traffic goes by/etc), but once… (volcanoes/oceans/etc),” and does a very good job of simply and efficiently laying out the somewhat complicated geological processes that have shaped our world. The art, created with Photoshop textures, is absolutely gorgeous, and looks so real that I thought it was hand drawn until I was told otherwise. Each spread is a panorama, with our modern world on the left drifting seamlessly in to the ancient world on the right, which helps cement the symmetry between the past and the future that lies at the heart of Right Where You Are Now. The snowy mountains > fiery volancoes page is a definite highlight, and is a perfect blending of the simple storytelling and beautiful artwork.
My favorite thing about the Craigmore Creations books I read is how much faith they give their young readers. Their books never feel like they’re talking down to their audience. They know that kids like dinosaurs, and volcanoes and science, so why would they want anything else? It’s incredibly refreshing in a world full of watered-down “children’s entertainment” to find a company that’s so willing to play to the height of their young audience’s intelligence.
TL;DR Craigmore Creations has several wonderful books to teach children about natural history without talking down to them. I would highly recommend their full catalogue for all ages, though particularly for use in the classroom.
Blunderbuss Wanderlust and Right Where You Are Now are both graphic books from Craigmore Creations. You can find out more about the company and each book's creators on the Craigmore Creations website. You can support Spandexless and purchase both Blunderbuss and RWYAN from Amazon. Or you can ask for it at your local comic book shop or local bookstore.
Brandon Beck is a writer/director/improviser living in Brooklyn, NY. He is currently working towards an MFA in TV Writing/Producing at the TV Writer’s Studio at Long Island University with the hopes of one day bending the entertainment industry to his nefarious will. He is more than happy to talk to you about Phish. You can see inside his mind by finding him on Tumblr or following him at @hellyesbrandon.