Dino Lab by Anson Montgomery

a Choose Your Own Adventure in the Dragonlark series for younger readers, so no death endings (tho the one pterodactyl ending was pretty ominous, IMO!)

I love the CYOA company’s kid’s line, which makes the classic game books that much more accessible, to both younger readers and the squeamish. I’m a big fan of interactive books, and Dragonlark allows kids to get into the subgenre without worrying about or being suddenly confronted by any bad endings. It amuses me how the slightly more advanced books actually do celebrate death endings on their covers, as their readers have most likely grown into that gruesome stage by then. My kids have certainly gotten there, clamoring for horror movies and other scary entertainment. Fortunately, books like this still serve as a welcome respite from the creepy stuff they consume otherwise.

My kids and I actually read this book together on a family trip this past weekend. Hilariously, my 12 year-old and I both got the same ending on our first, separate pass-throughs. My eldest 9 year-old twin was mostly interested in all the different dinosaur lore, as he is the most science-minded of my kids, so he really appreciated the section on dinosaur facts included in the back (my youngest is still not much of a reader, alas.)

The book itself is about YOU, the reader, who with your little sister Maria are visiting the compound where your aunt works. Aunt Sarah is a paleontologist at Dino Lab, as it’s called, a sort of miniature Jurassic Park in a dome. The dome is necessary for the gases that keep the dinosaurs docile. When an accident sets two of the baby dinos free, you and Maria must help the scientists figure out how to find them and then sufficiently calm them down for retrieval.

It’s a very cute premise, with gorgeous illustrations by Keith Newton. Honestly, I’m surprised he didn’t get a cover credit given how much work he put into this book! The pictures are colorful and engaging, and do an amazing job of setting the scene for all the shenanigans.

There were, I felt, several missed opportunities here, particularly with the cool doctors you’re introduced to in the first part who never make an appearance again later. But kids will likely greatly enjoy these larger-than-life adventures, and will eagerly go back in search of different endings (as I definitely did!) I also continue to appreciate the effort put into making the protagonist as gender- and racially-ambiguous as possible: it really broadens the appeal of the series, and tells kids not typically marketed to by sff and games that they’re welcome in these spaces, too.

Dino Lab by Anson Montgomery was published November 1 2016 by Chooseco and is available from all good booksellers, including

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