After a long streak of “other prehistoric creatures”, I’ve been itching to get back to dinosaurs proper, and to maybe break my streak of strictly nonfiction books as well. To that end, today I present for your viewing pleasure, The Adventures of Padma and a Blue Dinosaur, written by Vaishali Shroff and illustrated by Suvidha Mistry. I recently came across this book almost by chance while browsing social media, and immediately found myself intrigued. Over the last few years I’ve found myself increasingly interested in localized paleontology, especially regions with limited fossil publicity. I’ve begun touching on this interest of mine in my reviews of Europasaurus, Thunderfeet, Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline, Jason Chin’s Grand Canyon, and The Whiteside Museum of Natural History. However, despite representing somewhat niche topics in American paleontology, they all nevertheless focus the paleontology of America, which is vastly over-represented in popular culture.
Imagine my excitement then to find a children’s book entirely dedicated to Indian dinosaurs, authored by someone from that background no less! The Adventures of Padma and a Blue Dinosaur contains two main sections (with a foreward by paleontologist Dr. Ashok Sahni). In the first, Vaishali Shroff tells us a story about a young girl named Padma whose interest in dinosaurs takes a fantastic turn after an exciting discovery. In the second part, Shroff gives readers a nonfiction overview of the dinosaurs of India, as well as some basic geologic features and other paleontologically relevant information about the country.
The story opens with Padma and her grandmother Labhuben, whom Padma affectionately refers to as “Baa”. They spend their days tending their cows in the fields near an ancient stone temple and outcrops of rocks filled with ancient fossils. Naturally curious, Padma tries to imagine what the owners of these prehistoric remains would have looked like, and speculates with Baa on whether they inspired some of the fantastic carvings on the nearby temple. As they work, they frequently run into Rajan Dinkar, who Padma calls “Rock Uncle”, a friendly paleontologist conducting fieldwork in the area. He tells Padma all about the dinosaurs that used to live in the area as she tags along with him, and gives her a dinosaur egg after she helps him find an entire nest full of them.
After the light of a full moon falls upon her egg while she sleeps, Padma awakes to find she, Baa, and Rock Uncle have all been transported back to the time of the dinosaurs! A lonely blue Isisaurus stumbles across them, and asks if they can help him find his family. Wanting to help, and seeing an opportunity to explore, the trio agrees to help, and so they set off on an adventure through Cretaceous India!
I don’t want to spoil the rest of the story, but I rather enjoyed it! It’s a delightful tale driven by the passionate curiosity of a young child as she seeks to explore the world and help those around her. The story benefits from the interactions between Padma and Baa; their discussions on how dinosaurs might relate to the legends they grew up with really help tie the dinosaurs to their country in the reader’s mind. Too often people tend to think of prehistoric eras as a completely different world, but seeing people interact with their own local prehistoric creatures helps to ground this primeval world in our own. One small criticism I had concerned a minor plot point about fossil poaching that felt like it was going to be part of some larger theme about preserving India’s fossil legacy. Unfortunately, it was introduced in the last few paragraphs of the story, and ended up feeling like it was just kinda tossed in there.
After Padma’s story concludes, an entire second half awaits readers curious to learn more about India’s dinosaurs, and it does not disappoint! This nonfiction section covers all the reasonably well-known dinosaurs of India, including the dubious taxon Bruhathkayosaurus, providing a summary of the knowledge available about each of them. In addition to the “dino encyclopedia” type entries, Shroff also includes some basic information about paleontology in India, including early work in the country, and important fossil sites and discoveries.
While Suvidha Mistry takes some liberties with dinosaur anatomy in the story of Padma and her dinosaur, the nonfiction section appropriately features rather more realistic dinosaurs, though still rendered in a child-friendly style. There are features here and there I could nitpick, like the over-developed arms of Rajasaurus, but none of it significantly detracts from the educational value of what’s presented. Towards the end of the book, Shroff includes an interview Aaliya Farhat Babi, Princess of Balasinor and amateur paleontologist. They discuss how she came to develop her passion for fossils, areas she has explored, and advice for other aspiring paleontologists. It’s a great way to wrap up the book, and I only wish more books would prominently features individuals like this to put a human face on paleontology!
The Adventures of Padma and a Blue Dinosaur aims to inspire children to learn more about the fossils in their own backyard, and while people of an Indian background may be its target audience, I think all lovers of prehistory will appreciate this unique book. Indian dinosaurs receive far too little attention in the popular culture, and even I learned a few things as I read this! It certainly fill a much needed niche in the realm of children’s dinosaur literature. While the story might be a little long and the nonfiction section a little dense for younger children, I recommend this for any grade-school-level readers that wish to satisfy their curiosity about dinosaurs. I pleased to give The Adventures of Padma and a Blue Dinosaur the Dino Dad Stomp of Approval!