Little plastic dinosaurs. When I was a kid, I was in love with them. I loved T-Rex and what back then we called “Brontosaurus.” I had a spiky Ankylosaur that reminded me of a turtle and a Triceratops with its three horns. As kids do, I’d line them up on my windowsill. Sometimes they fought each other but mostly I marveled at their shapes and imagined how big they were in real life. Without a doubt I wanted one for myself. A Triceratops who knew me and would let me ride around on his neck as I held on to his bone frill. What would the kids in the neighborhood think when I rode my friend down the street?
If the film Land Before Time made dinos talkative and Jurassic Park made them scary, I figured a place for a third kind of dino story existed: very talkative, sometimes scary dinosaurs who existed not on screen and not on the windowsill, but in children’s imaginations.
So I set about creating my first dino story for young children. Since Apatasaurs had already been done and I wanted a little dino hero, I chose the Protoceratops, a little fellow about the size of a German Shepherd who sports a neck frill and chews plants. I named him Little Proto and set him in the Cretaceous Period about two million years before the asteroid strike and volcanoes that ended everything for the saurians. His voice came naturally and with it, lo and behold, a clever, warm-hearted personality. Proto is filled with joy at the beauty of life and dwells with his family in the Sea Forest.
Unashamedly anthropomorphic (these are children’s stories, after all), as are all the dino characters in the Proto tales, he sings a lot. So I ended up singing his songs in his character voice while playing my 12-string guitar in the studio, and enacting other characters, my favorites being King Geoffrey the One-Eye, a T-Rex, Old Wrinkles, a grandfatherly Triceratops, Ankles, an overweight Ankylosaur with a heart of gold, Plessy, a young girl Plesiosaur who lives in the river, and Bump, a Pachycephalosaurus with a bone dome on his head for bumping things.
To transport kids into Little Proto’s world I did some crazy things. Mimicked loon cries and flapping pteranodon wings, Maiasaura calls, crickets ringing––all sorts of sounds embedded in music to make it seem real. After The Adventures of Little Proto, the first recording, since one mom wrote me and told me her autistic daughter had listened to it and had suddenly spoken for the first time, I made two more, watching back stories emerge and having fun writing more songs. Little Proto’s T-Rex Adventure and Little Proto and the Volcano’s Fire follow Proto as he grows up, gets a little sister and narrowly escapes dangers while being faithful to his friends. Parents loved them and still tell me that their kids would often fall asleep listening to them, over and over again. Good stuff for an artist to hear.
Never been there in person, but I can imagine all those thousands of bedrooms with dinos on the windowsills and happy, sleeping kids.
Bradford, New Hampshire