Friday, November 16, 2018

Recommended! DACTYL HILL SQUAD by Daniel José Older

Some time back, I learned that Daniel José Older was working on a series that would blend history and fantasy. The first book in the series--Dactyl Hill Squad--is out and I gotta say, I enjoyed it! Older, by the way, is not Native. This is the second time I'm recommending one of his books. He's a terrific writer. There were several terrific passages in his Shadowshaper

Aimed at middle grade readers, here's the description:

It's 1863 and dinosaurs roam the streets of New York as the Civil War rages between raptor-mounted armies down South. Magdalys Roca and her friends from the Colored Orphan Asylum are on a field trip when the Draft Riots break out, and a number of their fellow orphans are kidnapped by an evil magistrate, Richard Riker. 
Magdalys and her friends flee to Brooklyn and settle in the Dactyl Hill neighborhood, where black and brown New Yorkers have set up an independent community--a safe haven from the threats of Manhattan. Together with the Vigilance Committee, they train to fly on dactylback, discover new friends and amazing dinosaurs, and plot to take down Riker. Can Magdalys and the squad rescue the rest of their friends before it's too late?

Dinosaurs? On the streets of NYC in 1863? You bet! I was pretty much hooked when I got to this passage in chapter one:
But it was only a few years ago that New York had passed a law granting black citizens the right to dinoride, and white people in Manhattan still bristled and stared when they saw someone with brown skin astride those massive scaly backs.
Magdalys and the other kids can't ride them, though. The orphanage staff didn't want her near them.
So Magdalys mostly had to be content with watching the great beasts cavort along outside her window: The lamplighter’s iguanodons would pass first thing in the morning, extinguishing the lanterns as the day broke. Then the commuter brachys would stomp past, passengers cluttered on the saddles and hanging from straps along the side. By noon the streets would fill with stegosaurs lugging supplies and the duckbill riders in fancy dress clothes, heading off to important meetings, while microraptors scurried across the roads, carrying messages or making nuisances of themselves. Most of the trikes and raptors had been sent down south to fight the Confederates, but every once in a while she’d see one of those too.
As I read those words, of these specific dinosaurs and what they did, I could see them, in my minds eye. Pretty cool world, Older is building!

What the description doesn't tell us is that one of Magdalys's friends is a Native girl. Her name is Amaya. Her mother is Apache; her father is a White general. We get to know a little about her, in tiny bits as the story unfolds. When she was little, her father worked at a military school in South Carolina. There, he taught her military tactics and weapons. When the war broke out, her father took command of a Union regiment and left her at the Colored Orphan Asylum. The things her father taught her prove helpful as the squad works to rescue the kidnapped orphans from the slaver who intends to take them south. That's all we know about her when the Dactyl Hill Squad ends.

I'm thinking about Amaya's back story. How did her mother and father meet? I'm curious and wonder what we'll learn in the next book in the series! Given what I've seen so far, I think Native kids will like seeing her in this book. And so, I recommend Daniel José Older's Dactyl Hill Squad. And I know my little sister's grandson is gonna like this series. He wants to study dinosaurs.  


Erika said...

Is it possible that Older is of Taino descent? Or would he probably identify that way if so?

Ava Jarvis said...

Ah, gosh, I've been wondering if I should leave my frivolous comment, but I've decided to go ahead: I loved dinosaurs so much as a kid. I haven't ever quite "grown" out of a love for dinosaurs, which has been transferred to their descendants, birds, now.

I'm so happy a book like this is coming out. Kids need to have great representation in stories involving living dinosaurs. There've been so many discoveries and advances between when I was little and now, it's just amazing.

Also the story doesn't seem to be heading down the Jurassic Park route, for which I'm grateful. (That book is... um... dark. Ye gods.)