MONSTROUS DINOSAUR BONES FOUND IN SCHOOL VISIT!   by Author & Illustrator Michael Dooling

Today on Eastern Penn Points blog, we’re honored to have a guest post by talented author and illustrator, Michael Dooling. Mike visited my daughter’s school recently, and she came home so excited, I just had to ask him to share some tips for a successful school visit with us.  Thanks, Mike, for inspiring my baby and so many others!

~Lindsay 🙂


by Author & Illustrator Michael Dooling

school visit dinosaur bone

“You and Benjamin Franklin have a lot in common,” wrote a third grade student. “You both wear glasses, except he was a genius and you are just an illustrator.” I receive a lot of letters from children and librarians. This student was excited about, not only my recent visit, but her new book, The Amazing Life of Benjamin Franklin. Over the past twenty-five years, I have illustrated sixty-four books—many on my favorite subject, history: stories about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Lewis and Clark, fossils, dinosaurs, pilgrims, Ellis Island, and Young Thomas Edison that School Library Journal said, “belongs in every library.”

Well, just an illustrator—yes. But illustrations draw children to a book. Every student in kindergarten through fifth grade loves to draw. You can literally hear a pin drop when I am drawing in front of an audience. Of course, a few ohhhs and ahhhs can be expected when showing a real 80 million-year-old dinosaur egg or a monstrous 40” dinosaur fossil that I “borrowed” from the paleontologist at a museum. A successful school visit is when students and teachers alike are engaged: listening, curious, and wanting to hear more. “You captivated the audience from kindergarten to faculty,” wrote a librarian.”Your interaction with the children kept the assembly alive.”

Titled, How to Tell a Story with a Picture, my program is a behind the scenes look at creating a picture book. My job as an illustrator is to add to the story—not to just repeat the words. You can accomplish this by creating a feeling or a mood. Making a painting can be likened to mixing ingredients to bake a cake. My ingredients are emotion, light, shadow, perspective, color, facial expression, and body posture.

Each oil painting is based on an emotion like happy, sad, fear, or hope. A happy painting  would be primarily light in tone. If based on the word fear, it would be dense in shadow—like a spooky horror movie. The perspective on each page could be different: perhaps, a worm’s eye view, a bird’s eye view, or at eye level. The point of view can be close-up, middle distance, or far away. The colors could be bright if the story is happy or dull if sad or mysterious. You can also tell a story with facial expression and body posture. In other words, a children’s book is like a movie in still pictures. Furthermore, family and friends model in costume for the characters in my books. I like to say, “Everyday at my house is like Halloween. Someone is always putting on a  costume!”

My hope is that students will leave the assembly with a smile on their face and wanting to read and write. The most complimentary letter I ever received was from an elementary school librarian who said, “You have truly made a difference in the life of a child. He is still writing!” To that end, it is important for my program to be interactive. Questions are posed and suggestions made on how to draw and write effectively. “Close your eyes,” I say, as a line of text is projected on to the screen. “Dream of a picture that you think will go with these words.” We go on to discuss how libraries and museums are essential for research—for doing your homework. How searching for primary sources, reading, and asking questions are important to writing and illustrating. We conclude our assembly with a lesson on observation: how anyone can draw if they use their ‘artists eyes’. My goal is to get children interested in reading through art and history. And, if my program is well-received I will probably get a few more letters reminding me that I am just an illustrator. And that is fine with me.

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My new book Fossil Hunter is about strange and monstrous bones found in Haddonfield, New Jersey. In 1858, fossil hunter William Foulke unearthed the first almost complete dinosaur skeleton ever found, proving what dinosaurs looked like and that they really once existed.

William’s discovery changed paleontology from a gentlemen’s hobby to a mainstream science. His dig site lingered in obscurity of over a hundred years. In 1984, thirteen-year-old Haddonfield resident and Eagle Scout Christopher Brees researched the site and placed a stone plaque marking Foulke’s find. It is now called Hadrosaurus Park. In 1988, fourth-grade teacher Joyce Berry and her students at Strawbridge Elementary School in Haddon Township, New Jersey,  proposed to the New Jersey State legislature that Hadrosaurus Foulkii be named the state dinosaur. In 1991, it was officially designated the state dinosaur. To commemorate the event, sculptor John Giannotti created a bronze statue of the dinosaur eight feet tall and fifteen feet long nicknamed, Haddy. The bones that William found are on display at The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.

You can purchase Fossil Hunter here.

In 2013, Michael was selected for a Top Ten List of great Author Visits by the Pennsylvania School Library Association. He has visited over 950 schools nationwide inspiring children to read. He would love to visit your school. Michael is very kid-friendly, speaks to all grades, and has books for every level. Read more at Contact Michael at

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3 Responses to MONSTROUS DINOSAUR BONES FOUND IN SCHOOL VISIT!   by Author & Illustrator Michael Dooling

  1. Thank you for this wonderful article. Mr. Dooling, your work is inspirational!

  2. Virginia Law Manning says:

    I can imagine being in school and mesmerized by your presentation! Thank you for sharing your trade tips!

  3. I was laughing and engaged from the first sentence of this post! I’ve forwarded it onto a couple of teachers I know. Sometimes I wish I were a kindergartner again 🙂

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