For author Bonnye Matthews, the prehistoric times of the Arctic provide plenty of intrigue. How did dinosaurs survive the freezing cold temperatures, snow, and blistering winds? She answers these questions in her book, “Arctic Dinosaurs of Alaska,” which will provide a thrilling and educational tale for young readers.
If you think back to your childhood, you might remember a time when you were fascinated by dinosaurs. Whether it was movies, toys, or pictures, thoughts of giant reptiles would roam in your mind. Studies have shown these interests, which are not only educational, help to provide children with better persistence, attention spans, and information-processing abilities.
For writer Bonnye Matthews, that enthusiasm for learning about the habitants and foreign world of prehistoric times is exactly what she’s trying to produce through her upcoming book, “Arctic Dinosaurs of Alaska.”
Matthews, the owner of BooksbyBonnye, explained the middle grade work of fiction “nestled in nonfiction,” aimed at children between the ages of seven to 14, focuses on the story of a group of dinosaurs — though she noted it’s not a story you might see from someone like Disney, where the reptiles could communicate with each other through our human way of talking. “[What] I was hoping to get across to the kids without saying it is that animals do not think like we do. Their brains work like ours do, but we don’t think the same. They don’t have language, not like we do. But they do communicate in various ways, and I wanted young readers to look for that,” she said.
While the dinosaurs may be the main focus of the work, their domain is also explored. Matthews noted the intro dives into the topic of the climate in the Cretaceous period, which was known as a hothouse/greenhouse earth due to there being no year-round ice at either poles. Geology is examined as well. “At the time 70 million years ago, when these dinosaurs were around, they couldn’t have gone from Alaska to the eastern part of North America because there was a huge inland waterway in between, so their geology was way different from ours.”
“If children decide to color in their paperback books, they can color the more than 40 illustrations in the book.”
Of course, “Arctic Dinosaurs of Alaska” can also appeal to a child’s creativity, particularly thanks to the fact that many of the illustrations throughout the hardcover and paperback versions are colorable, leaving plenty of room for artistic self-expression. For the library and ebook versions, readers can go to the publisher’s website and download pictures to color.
“Then at the end of the book in the appendix, there are discussion questions that if this were used in a school environment, could help guide discussions. There’s a comparison chart of the dinosaurs,” Matthews said.
“Arctic Dinosaurs of Alaska” is set to debut this summer from the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature, which Matthews heralded for its exhibits and presentation of works from artists like James Haven, who’s painting of Pachyrhinosauruses can be seen on the right.
The setting of the book is a fascinating one thanks to the recent discoveries, specifically in the 1980s when it was concluded that fossilized bones — first discovered by geologist Robert Liscomb in 1961 along Alaska’s Colville River — were that of Hadrosaurids, also known as duck-billed dinosaurs. These creatures had previously been connected to Canada and the lower 48 states.
While there are a number of different subspecies of Hadrosaurids, like the Edmontosaurus and Maiasaura, Liscomb’s fossils were revealed to be an entirely different species in 2015 due to features in the skull and mouth. Eventually, it was dubbed Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis (oo-GREW-na-luck KOOK-pik-en-sis), or “ancient grazers.” The discovery taught that these Hadrosaurids, which could grow up to 30 feet, had to survive months of freezing conditions and two months of no sun above the horizon.
When Liscomb first discovered the fossils, Matthews explained he probably thought they were megafauna bones. “He carried those bones back to Shell Oil, where he worked, and he wrote up the location of the material, and stored it in the Shell warehouse.” Sadly, tragedy befell the geologist. “The very next year, he died in a rockslide.”
Liscomb’s true discovery would remain unknown until the 1980s, when the fossils were sent to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) and properly identified. Following that, nearly 6,000 Hadrosaurid bones were dug up over the next couple decades. Knowing the contributions he made that have essentially changed the way scientists view how dinosaurs lived in the Arctic, Matthews dedicated “Arctic Dinosaurs of Alaska” to Liscomb.
“I needed a change. Something that would give me a real challenge and present me with a different and unique experience.”
For Matthews, this mixture of nonfiction and fiction — combining true data and history with the captivation of a protagonist’s heroing journey — has been a staple throughout her works that include a five-volume novel series, three-volume novella series, and western hemisphere population origin paradigm. “Arctic Dinosaurs of Alaska,” however, presented her with a welcome test.
While the subject was initially disinteresting to her, once she realized “how much there was to figure out” on the period and creatures, her views changed. “How in the world did they survive in the snow? We were taught they were cold blooded.” Matthews posed, explaining there was much in the way of unknowns, which ended up impacting how she wrote her story.
“The winds up here are fierce. We’ve had 96 miles-per-hour sustained winds at my sub-Arctic home, and those are being blocked by mountains. The slopes where these dinosaurs were had no protection. The land is flat, and the forests had little, skinny trees.”
“I had comedic imaginings of those dinosaurs being blown all over the place. What I did in my book was have them migrate to the Brooks Range, where the wind would be cut down some. There’s no proof that they did that, but there’s no proof that they didn’t.”
While working to get “Arctic Dinosaurs of Alaska” transformed from manuscript to book, Matthews has kept her hand on “Sanctuary: In His Pocket,” which is a positive apologia or inspirational memoir.
“If being silent is the price that you have to pay to be different, then fine, I’ll pay the price because my walk with God is worth more. Giving it up would be in some ways a type of death.”
Being spiritually Christian and Calvinist by belief has continually been a resounding presence in Matthews’ life, and is also the reason for where she is today. Growing up, Matthews admitted she had a gift. “I realized I was different. For some reason, I could talk to God.” One such instance of her connection, which occurred during her time in Louisiana at the age of six, resulted in her realizing God had a specific plan for her. “Some people figure it out; others, like me, have to be told what that plan is,” she explained.
Sitting down next to the bayou with a book given to her by her father, which possessed Old Testament stories, Matthews witnessed something spectacular while describing it as a representation. “Over the bayou, I saw a vision,” she said, noting she didn’t know what a vision was at the time. “What was sitting out over the bayou in the air was like a movie. I saw the angels walking up and down the stairs, and the beauty that I saw of that place I understood to be an entry to heaven. I left my body and walked to the base of the stairs, but I couldn’t get to them because the bayou went down under it. I wanted to leave, I was ready to leave the Earth right then. It was impressed on me strongly that I had work to do for the Lord and I couldn’t come right then.”
She was unable to relay to others what had happened due to doubts, parental concerns when her mother told her to stop believing she “walked with God,” and offending people who she tried to explain her spiritual behavior to at the early age of four. While she did not see it as abnormal but normal due to hearing the phrase in church, Matthews kept quiet about her gift until her seventies.
Of course, the question of what God’s plan was for Matthews, who had previously served as a middle and high school teacher, still remained. She wouldn’t find out the purpose until she prepared for it through life changes starting in 1988-89, when — wanting to know more — she made it clear to God that “worship to me is not music and song in church, worship to me is knowing who you are and just giving myself to you, I have nothing else to give except myself.”
Two weeks later, Matthews would be poisoned, an inopportune time considering she was vying for a promotion to personnel officer at her work for the Federal Government. “Instead of looking for a promotion, what I’m looking at is my doctor telling me it’s time for me to start getting my affairs in order because she didn’t think I was going to live.”
Following this traumatic event by some 30 years, Matthews realized why she hadn’t been aware of her destiny before. “God essentially impressed on me, ‘If I had told you what I wanted you to do, it would’ve changed you, and you wouldn’t be who you are.’ Finally I could understand why it is I didn’t know.”
“People are people, it doesn’t matter what color they are, what time they lived in – anything like that is irrelevant. Nobody is any more superior than another.”
Overcoming her dire prognosis in the late 1980s, Matthews went to work as a writer — something she never dreamed of doing — retiring to Alaska and devoting a considerable amount of time to research and classes at the University of Alaska. Before her move to Alaska, she produced two books in an effort to prevent others from becoming poisoned as she had. Those books are now out of date, but they did, according to readers in the 1990s, prevent nine people from committing the suicide they planned just before reading her first book. They managed to reach her to let her know. Her faith made it clear to her, she couldn’t die until her work for the Lord, whatever that was, was completed. Her undying faith continues to inspire works today, as it’s the basis of “Sanctuary: In His Pocket.”
Matthews recalled the moment she did discover her “assigned job” in — of all places — a Walmart parking lot. “The Lord summoned me in the Walmart parking lot in my car before I turned the key. He impressed on me a vision of my head with a grotesque hat-like protuberance above my ears that looked like a muffin top of fat. I was horrified. He made it clear that the years of silence on our walk created that hat-like mess. The purpose of my learning has been, since childhood, to share what I learned with others. All but my walk with my God. My job for him was to share our walk in a book. I had to laugh that my purchase, paper and computer ink, was certainly on target.”
Matthews was horrified, but noted if that was what she had to do, she would find a path ahead showing what to do and how to do it. “He’d enable that. Still, when I’d kept quiet for all that time, this was the last thing I expected. But that’s how my walk with him has always been. And never does he have me do something I want to do or that I’d find easy.”
While writing prehistoric human fiction would prove to be a new field, the work she put in helped Matthews to grasp it quickly. “The stories just came to me because of all the research. I could imagine the people, and almost walk with them because of what I had learned.”
Studying prehistoric periods, dinosaurs, and neanderthals didn’t just teach Matthews their ways of life, but crystalized a belief that superiority between peoples or generations doesn’t exist. “What that taught me is that these people were anything but primitive. This is where I finally solidified my concept that superiority is a desire of man, it’s not attainable.”
Matthews noted she has a difficult time believing that were people of the modern age placed in the shoes of neanderthals, they would fare just as well. “They made survival decisions that we wouldn’t even know where to begin. And yet, today, we do what we do because we stood on their shoulders. They were not primitive for their times, they were brilliant for their time.”
Both “Arctic Dinosaurs of Alaska” and “Sanctuary: In His Pocket” are undistorted reflections of the author, despite the fact that the books have nothing in common other than the author. To learn more about Matthews and her publications, you can visit BooksbyBonnye’s website by clicking here.
Andrew Rhoades is a Contributing Reporter at The National Digest based in New York. A Saint Joseph’s University graduate, Rhoades’ reporting includes sports, U.S., and entertainment. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.