If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party (and giveaway!)

A few years ago, I read that late author George Stanley sometimes made lists of random characters and situations, then cut them into strips, picked two, and played around with how he might match them up for a story.

Why not? I thought. So I made a long list of possible characters that included Pirate, Snake, T. rex, Ghost, Ballerina, etc. Situations included first day of school, bully trouble, birthday party, etc. I drew T. rex and birthday party. A voice popped into my head, and a book was born.

If a T Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party

Okay, it wasn’t quite that easy, but it was a fun process. Here’s how the story begins:

If a T. rex crashes your birthday party, you’ll probably be super excited. All that stomping and ROARing and waving those little arms around … Woo-hoo! A barrel of laughs, right?  

     But someone should warn you about a few things. Someone who knows.

     Like me.

Things start off all right. Sort of. Except that a T. rex is as big as a school bus.


But the narrator warns you to expect lots of ROARING and stomping because, as it turns out, a T. rex is easily upset by … well, everything. Like when his 10-inch toenails puncture your jumping balloon. Or when his party hat breaks.


Or when you have a tiny mishap while playing Pin the Tail on the Dino.        


Or when he has trouble with Water Balloon Toss. Or can’t hit the piñata. At the end of the day, though, you might be surprised when–    

Well, you know how I hate giving away an ending, right? Anyway, isn’t that big turquoise guy cool? The illustrations are, as you can see, wacky and whimsical and entirely kid friendly. I thought it’d be fun to interview illustrator Dasha Tolstikova.    

JE:  Tell us how you decided on the look of T. Rex – his color, his spots, his squareness. (The illustration in which his eyes are both on the same side of his head still cracks me up.)

DT:  I actually played around with what I wanted him to look like quite a bit. Originally I was drawing him much more realistically  – I bought some toy plastic T. Rexes and carried them around with me – sketching and trying to figure out what he looks like whenever I got a chance – but as it turns out a more realistic T-Rex in my drawing style looks a lot more like a giant chicken than you would probably imagine – so I kept going and eventually hit on the T-Rex as we know him today. The color and the spots all sort of grew out of earlier versions of him, you could say it’s evolution at work.

JE:  I love how the turtle keeps showing up throughout the book, even while the characters are in a jumping balloon! What inspired the addition of this little guy?
DT:  I thought it would be fun to have a very small friend at the party, in addition to the VERY LARGE one!

JE:  The expressions on the kids’ faces and their (and the dino’s) body language are so simple, yet convey so much emotion. Tell us a bit about how your style has developed over the course of your career.

DT:  Thanks so much! I feel like I am still learning and growing with every book I do. While I work I tell the story to myself and really try to get into the heads of all the characters (even the very small ones – like the turtle) – maybe that’s where the expressions come from?
JE:  Tell us a little about your next book….

DT:  I have another book coming out in October – it’s called Friend or Foe and it’s a dark fable about whether it is possible for a cat and a mouse to be friends. It was written by the Canadian poet John Sobol and it’s being published by Groundwood, who of course put out my book A Year Without Mom. Besides that I am working on illustrations to a Little Red Riding Hood variation and plotting away at a picture book OF MY OWN! Stay tuned!  

Thanks so much, Dasha. For everything!

Readers, you can see more of Dasha’s work here.  And click here to download a fun-filled T. rex birthday party kit!       And if you’d like a chance to win a copy of IF A T. REX CRASHES YOUR BIRTHDAY PARTY for yourself or a dino-crazy little one, just leave a comment below. Otherwise, the book is available everywhere. Today. Yay!

Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum has been picture book crazy since her 3 kids were little, and especially so after her first was published in 2004 (Stink Soup). Recent titles: Bird Girl - Gene Stratton-Porter Shares Her Love of Nature With the World, Parrotfish Has a Superpower, Stinkbird Has a Superpower, Sea Turtle Swims, Kangaroo Hops, Jack Knight's Brave Flight, We Love Babies!, Where'd My Jo Go?, Frog Boots, How to Grow a Dinosaur, Frankenbunny, If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party, Elwood Bigfoot– Wanted: Birdie Friends!, Teeny Tiny Toady, I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!, and more. Coming in 2025: Polecat Has a Superpower!, It's Corn-Picking Time!, Giraffe Runs. She's also the author of many nonfiction books for young readers, as well as an early graphic reader series, Thunder & Cluck. Learn more at http://jillesbaum.com.


  1. Can’t wait to read it!

  2. Can’t wait to read this one! And what adorable illustrations!

  3. This sounds like a cute one. Can’t wait to read it! Congrats!

  4. This is such a great book, and hearing Jill read it in person at the WOW retreat was a total treat. Congratulations on an energetic, fun read that kids will gobble up. 😀

  5. This is so cute! I can’t wait to read it 🙂

  6. Kathy Mazurowski

    Thanks for the insight on your process

  7. That big turquoise guy is ADORABLE! He can come to any of my birthday parties!

  8. Lindsay Hanson Metcalf

    Congrats on T. Rex, Jill and Dasha. It’s an adorable book.

  9. This looks fantastic! (Or T. riffic?) I love the premise, the humor, and the art–looks like a perfect marriage of words and text. Bravo!! Congratulations to you both!

    (And, Jill, I love the use of a contrasting text color for the interview–need to learn how you did that.)

  10. This was such a fun article to read! Thank you! I will share on Twitter as well.

  11. Looks fabulous! I bet my dino-loving 2 year old daughter would love it.

  12. I hope she does, Christine! 🙂

  13. The “book aunt” has just found the present for great-nephew Davy’s 4th birthday!

    What a duo! Dasha’s T-rex is dynamite and the voice sounds hilarious. I think the two of you need to collaborate on a giant chicken book next.


  14. This will certainly be a huge hit with the kids – congratulations!

  15. Amanda Sincavage

    Congrats! What a fun book!

  16. The perfect gift for a 4-year-old! And I know just the recipient! I loved the interview with the illustrator! Nice job!

  17. Looking forward to reading this, Jill! Congratulations to both you and Dasha!!!

  18. Thanks so much for sharing this. I am inspired!

  19. I love when an illustrator can convey so much with simple drawings.

  20. Pin the tail on the Dino! that’s definitely something you don’t want to play with T. Rex because…. ROAR! Great post!

  21. FANTASTIC!!!!!! Happy Book Birthday, Jill and a T.Rex sized CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!

  22. Fun! And I do love the look of the dino. Great idea to interview your illustrator. That’s one for my “to do” pile. Thanks! And congrats on such an enjoyable looking book!

  23. So fun! Thanks for sharing!

  24. Barbara Thompson

    Can’t wait to read this one and share it with the young dino lovers in the family!

  25. LOVE this idea! Thanks for a behind-the-scenes look!

  26. Great brainstorming tip, and what an adorable Dino!

    • I haven’t used the draw-from-piles since, but it really makes your imagination spark. Let me know if you try it, Rachel!

  27. Congratulations! So clever.
    Thanks for letting us glimpse your process, too!

  28. Totally intrigued to read this one! Imagination abounds in the description. Love your books Jill, so pretty sure I’ll love this one too!

  29. Very cute idea, Jill! Kids will love it!

  30. Congratulations on a book birthday! I will be watching for it.

  31. I love the “simplicity” of the illustrations and the use of color palette. I would love to study this book for it’s design and playfulness…

  32. I would love a copy of this book to read to my Kindergarten class. They would love it!

  33. I had a sneek peek of IF A T. REX CRASHES YOUR BIRTHDAY PARTY at the WOW Retreat 2016, so I know all about the appeal of this delightful book.

    Thank you Jill and Dasha for your team work.

  34. Looks amazing!

  35. Congratulations, Jill! I like how you meshed two topics together and came up with this story!

  36. Yay indeed! Congratulations! This looks like a ‘roaring’ good book – looking forward to reading it. 🙂

  37. Any chance that you read this PiBoIdMo post about George Stanley for your inspiration Jill?


    Even if not – it is a wonderful reference for anyone who is curious about Mr. Stanley’s – aka “Captain Hook” – methodology! : )

    Can’t wait to read T.Rex!

  38. Congratulations on your book’s birthday, Jill and Dasha. What a great idea to stimulate story ideas, combining two (seemingly) unrelated topics!

  39. You can never go wrong with a dino! Congratulations Jill. Another winner for you list.

  40. This looks like so much fun! I can’t wait to pour over the words and images. Congrats, Jill and Dasha!

  41. I can’t wait to read this, Jill. It sounds like a fun book to read out loud to children.
    And the addition of the turtle is great. I bet he is super cute. 🙂

  42. Despite the damage , I would LOVE a T-Rex to crash my birthday party!

  43. This looks like such a fun book & I love the creative process of picking two unrelated things from paper strips & putting them together in a story. Thanks for sharing! An happy book birthday!

  44. Looks super cute–can’t wait to see the ending!

  45. Great interview! I’m not sure if I’d want to be anywhere near that clumsy T. rex, but the book sure looks cute!

  46. I want to read this and share it with my granddaughter. It’s adorable.

  47. Congratulations! So happy for another Jill Esbaum book! Now, what happens if a T Rex crashes your book signing event??

  48. Congrats, Jill–what a great idea!

    And I love Dasha’s illustrations. Her book, A Year Without Mom was lovely too.

  49. YES oh yes. What fun!

  50. Loved hearing and seeing the illustrator’s perspective, Jill! Congrats on a wonderful book…and congrats to Dasha also! I’m posting about the book today. And will do a giveaway tomorrow with your interview on Will Write for Cookies.

  51. Congratulations!!! This is great post, Jill. Fun to see the illustrator’s input too. Just started my own list of characters and situations. Thanks. I did get a glimpse of this book at WOW. Every time I read something from you now, I can see you and hear your “voice”! I have my notebook open to note I took as you spoke at WOW. You are special.

  52. This looks like such a fun book! Thanks for sharing the backstory. It was very interesting.

  53. 🙂 Thanks for reading, Ashley.

  54. This looks so good! Love the illustrations.

  55. Aren’t they fun?! They make the book. 🙂

  56. I’m coming in late on this, Jill, but wanted to still comment and thank you for sharing about your and Dasha’s book! It looks so fabulous. It made me remember how terrified I was of T-Rex’s (from watching The Land Before Time), and I had recurring nightmares about them for many years. I love that Dasha’s work was paired with your story, because it’s so bright and playful, that I’m convinced it would have cured my fears. Thanks for making them hilarious for me!

    • Oh, how awful for a kid to be plagued with T. Rex nightmares, Eliza! Dasha DID make him really fun, didn’t she? Glad it helped you. 🙂

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