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Dactyl Hill Squad #1

Dactyl Hill Squad

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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?

272 pages, Hardcover

First published September 11, 2018

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About the author

Daniel José Older

115 books1,853 followers
Daniel José Older is the New York Times bestselling author of the Young Adult series the Shadowshaper Cypher (Scholastic), the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series (Penguin), and the upcoming Middle Grade sci-fi adventure Flood City (Scholastic). He won the International Latino Book Award and has been nominated for the Kirkus Prize, the Mythopoeic Award, the Locus Award, the Andre Norton Award, and yes, the World Fantasy Award. Shadowshaper was named one of Esquire’s 80 Books Every Person Should Read. You can find his thoughts on writing, read dispatches from his decade-long career as an NYC paramedic and hear his music at http://danieljoseolder.net/, on youtube and @djolder on twitter.

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5 stars
246 (25%)
4 stars
380 (39%)
3 stars
274 (28%)
2 stars
47 (4%)
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22 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 261 reviews
Profile Image for Rebecca Roanhorse.
Author 56 books7,397 followers
July 17, 2018
So much fun. A cleaver and entertaining way to introduce real historical events (think Draft Riots and Gangs of New York) to middle grade readers. A mix of historical and contemporary slang keeps the prose fresh and appealing to contemporary readers. Older really upped his game. This is great stuff!
Profile Image for Mir.
4,845 reviews5,003 followers
December 8, 2020
This is 3 stars in the goodreads-asserted sense, meaning "I liked it." I liked many things about it (the spunky kids on dinosaurs, the attempt to make important moral and historical lessons fun and interesting) but didn't love it. Of course, I am also not 10, and therefore not the intended audience. I'd be interested in hearing what people who have kids the right age think. Did they understand the historical setting? Was the pace right? I admit I found some parts a but slow (but I was more patient at 10!) and conversely also got a bit bored of similar dino-fighting action scenes. I would have liked this better as an animated film, I think, although I doubt an American poduction company would greenlight a kids' movie with so many dead bodies.

Also, if the person who brought the MC and her brother to the orphanage was a slave trader, why did he not sell them? Did I miss the explanation? That character seemed like he should have been more important than he turned out to be.
Profile Image for Billie.
930 reviews79 followers
February 17, 2018
I'm not giving this a rating because I am in two very different minds about it. Part of me is all "Yay! Five stars! Historical adventure with a smart, brave girl of color—nay, an entire cast of characters of color— and dinosaurs! Plus, it very sneakily teaches really important history lessons about the North during the Civil War. And dinosaurs!" And the other part of me was all "Two stars because the science just doesn't make sense. I'm not even a scientist and I know that. I mean, if dinosaurs survived into the 19th Century, that would have had a tremendous impact on the path of evolution for other species. If humans had evolved at all, they would have probably done so very differently and there's a good possibility that things like Shakespeare and the Civil War wouldn't even have happened. I just...the SCIENCE."

So, yeah. My inner ten-year-old loved it to pieces. My grown-up brain had serious issues with the world-building. Make of that what you will.
Profile Image for Adriana (SaltyBadgerBooks).
432 reviews18 followers
August 14, 2018
My review is based on the ARC which was actually given to me by a friend.

I loved it! As of this moment it is my favorite middle grade of the year! I really liked that he gave us something fun and educational. I know the lingo is accurate (but he does explain that in the informational section) but it makes sense why he does it!

I like that he came up with mini-dactyls and well just mini dinosaurs in general. And that he came up with shorthanded names for these dinosaurs as if they did evolve with us. He touched on real issues that were happening in that day and age, and made a bunch of kids heroes!

I thought this book was extremely fun. And deserves all the attention a middle grade book can get! I will definitely be purchasing a finisher copy! As the ARC doesn't have the illustrations!
Profile Image for Renata.
2,476 reviews334 followers
December 27, 2018
oh another one I forgot to review earlier! First of all, when I booktalked this in schools kids lost their MINDS about it. It's SUCH a good premise. Civil War + dinosaurs?? Hell yeah hell yeah

PLUS ALSO it does such a smart great job of integrating some pieces of Civil War history that aren't as widely taught, plus also a rad trans character! But also just a lot of fun!

Profile Image for Lata.
3,509 reviews187 followers
November 23, 2019
I knew I had to read this when I first heard of this book because 1) dinosaurs, 2) it was written by one of my favourite authors, Daniel José Older.
What a hoot this book was! I loved the alternate history where dinosaurs coexist. Unfortunately, all the other horrible things of this time period (1863) also exist, so main character Magdalys Roca is no stranger to racism and the unequal treatment applied to people of colour.
After getting trapped in a riot and a barely evading a kidnapping attempt, and a fire at the orphanage she lives at, Magdyls and some of her fellow members of the orphanage escape to Brooklyn. Magdylys and her friends (other children of colour) become involved with a group helping escaped slaves, but also people kidnapped in New York and sent down south to become slaves. The story revolves around Magdylys discovering her ability to converse with dinosaurs, and helping rescue the remaining orphans from the kidnappers.
The story's fast, there are several scenes of Magdylys and her friends flying on pterodactyls (yay!), and there's humour, despite the situations the kids find themselves in. Magdylys learns to reach out to her friends, and hone her dinosaur-whispering skills. The ending leads into book two, which I am definitely reading.
Profile Image for Akoss.
559 reviews53 followers
November 11, 2018
@Kidlitexchange #partner - I received a copy of this book from the Kidlitexchange network in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Released 9/11/18

In an unstable world where Black people still had to fight for their freedom and right to be seen as equal human beings (gee that hits way too close to home no matter how I try to spin it.) Magdalys and her friends fight for survival, friendship and family.

If you’re a parent or educator reading my review, I recommend you leave your grown up brain behind before you jump into the world of Dactyl Hill Squad. It has dinosaurs and humans living side by side the way we have pets and farm animals nowadays.

Once you’ve taken care of that, prepare to be swept in a whirlwind of past paced events, battle scenes and so much more. If I have any “issue” with this book it will be the neck-breaking pace that doesn’t quite allow the reader to soak in the world building.

However you will quickly fall in love with Magdalys and her friends and before you know it you will be rooting for these orphans to make Riker regrets the day he decided to make them his new targets.

I can’t wait for the sequel.
Profile Image for Reviews May Vary.
1,181 reviews95 followers
July 2, 2020
Imagine that in whatever years the Civil War was, there were dinosaurs! And imagine that you have the ability to communicate with them. Boom! Dactyl Hill Squad. I am recommending this to all adventure seeking middle grade readers. It's a great way to blend a little history with a little pre-history!

Here's my Youtube gush sesh:
5 reviews
January 6, 2019
Dactyl Hill Squad is one of those books that tells you to hold tight and then floors the accelerator. The action is well written and paced perfectly while set among Civil War era New York. Wait.. it's also full of Dinosaurs. I'll get back to that in a minute. This was my first read of a book by Mr. Older and I'm in. I love how he knits historical fact into the story line giving the book the feel of the era. The lead character, Magdalys Roca, is one of the strongest female characters I've come across in a long time, and that is true of all the women in this book. They are truly brilliant.

I'll admit that at first I had a hard time with the dinos and that was purely due to the funk of the book I had read prior to this one. The further into it I got I became more enamored with the idea and would love to see a movie version. I'm also glad to see there were no punches pulled with the casualties in the story. It's rare that a children's book deals with death and injury in such a way, but it fits well with the story, and the turbulent time the book is set in.

I can't wait to read the next installment, and dig into some of Mr. Older's other offerings.

3,734 reviews18 followers
July 19, 2018
Different with a capital D and super fun! Kids are going to eat this series up. Civil War in an alternate America with all the action in this volume in New York City. Dinosaurs are domesticated in this world and our orphaned heroine has a telepathic link to them that enables her to direct their actions and win their loyalty. Issues of race, class and prejudice are threaded through the story and well integrated. The dinosaur battle scenes are wildly entertaining and the villains completely despicable!

A satisfying conclusion here but the ending also leads right into the next installment.

Back matter includes information on dinosaur species and notes on weapons and "words" including the use of modern language with period slang defined.

Lots of fun!
Profile Image for Briana.
651 reviews12 followers
August 17, 2018
Initial Thoughts: I loved the premise of this one (dinosaurs during the Civil War era!),but the writing left something to be desired. The pacing was off and things would happen very suddenly, and some things were so outrageous (but not in a good way) that I couldn't believe they actually happened. There's also not as much of a Civil War tie as I really wanted, but that's a personal opinion. I do like the historical notes in the back of the book about both the war and dinosaurs. Finally, the dialogue is very modern, which is another pet peeve of mine in historical fiction. I don't expect 100% 1860's sounding language, but I can do without characters saying things like "Let's roll up to the building."
Profile Image for Hebah.
462 reviews9 followers
January 2, 2019
I always like to kick my reading year off with something fun, something promising to kick off a reading year. Dactyl Hill Squad has been on my to-read list since it was announced, pretty much, so it seemed like an auspicious start.

It's just your average Civil War story centering on a group of orphans of color, one of whom can communicate with the dinosaurs that are used for transport and labor. One night, while protagonist Magdalys and her friends are out at a Shakespeare performance, they get separated from their guardian in a mob and--oh, sorry, did you just register the dinosaurs bit? Yeah. If your first response is to question how the dinosaurs survived and what major world-altering consequences that would have, this probably isn't the book for you because it's never really explained, just taken as a fact of the world, with an added dose of magic in Magdalys's ability to communicate telepathically with the giant beasts. If you're still in touch with your inner child or know a child of chapter-book-reading age whose immediate response is "Whoa, dinosaurs, COOL!" then pick this one up.

For that matter, Dactyl Hill Squad isn't really your typical Civil War story either, ignoring the obvious dinosaurs in the room. This one is set in New York and kicks off with the real-life-inspired Draft Riots, when white New Yorkers, upset at the prospect of being drafted to a fight that might end slavery, rioted and destroyed buildings in black neighborhoods, including the Colored Orphan Asylum, rendered here in fictional form. The key villain in the story is based on a real person, Richard Riker, who sent free blacks south to slavery on minimal or insufficient evidence. Notes following the story explain the historical inspirations for people, places, and events in the story, and I'm not too proud to admit that I wasn't familiar with a lot of his inspirations.

All of which is to say, yes, Dactyl Hill Squad does engage with issues of race, but at a level suitable for middle-grade readers and dealing with concepts that young readers of color already probably have some firsthand experience with. When Magdalys and her crew are taken in by the Vigilance Society, she's awed, "like she'd discovered a whole new kind of saint over the course of the night, these brilliant, fearless heroes who looked like her and were ready to do anything to make the world what it should be instead of what it was." This right here is why we need diverse representation in stories, so children can see heroes that look like them (and also so others can see heroes who *don't* look like them being awesome), whether that's swooping across rooftops on dactylback or making triceratops fart jokes. (Yeah. That happened. I giggled.)

I'm not the intended audience for this, as an adult, but I still had a blast as these heroes rode dinosaurs, dodged bad guys, and wisecracked with their friends the whole way. And I will absolutely keep this in my back pocket as a rec for reluctant readers.
Profile Image for Laura Harrison.
Author 2 books
January 1, 2021
I read this to my almost 9 year old daughter, and she was totally fascinated by it. Reading this book led to productive discussions about history, gender, war, and slavery. Despite what some reviews have said, she had no trouble understanding that this is a piece of historical fantasy, so their were no dinosaurs in the Civil War era! I would recommend this for older kids to read themselves, or kids my daughter’s age who will still let an adult read to them.
Profile Image for Laura.
3,694 reviews95 followers
August 9, 2018
Historical fiction with dinosaurs? The combination just barely works (IMVHO) - the history occasionally got short-shrifted because the dinosaur part needed to be worked in. Luckily there are author's notes about the Draft Riots, the Colored Orphan Asylum, the period slang and dinorsaurs to help fill in blanks and point readers to additional information.

ARC provided by publisher.
Profile Image for Natalie.
2,394 reviews51 followers
September 6, 2018
Release date - September 11, 2018

I was drawn to this book by the unique premise. Dinosaurs and humans coexist, and both the North and the South are using dinosaurs in the Civil War. They are used in place of horses, to deliver mail and to fight or attack. The main character Magdalys (Mags for short) is an orphan who discovers she can communicate with the dinosaurs, and becomes involved with the war effort.

When I read that she could communicate with the dinosaurs, I was imagining that the book would have a bit of Eragon-and-Saphira vibe to it, where the dinosaurs talk to Mags, but in actuality, it’s more that Mags can sense their feelings and emotions. I was hoping for more of a friendship between the two species, but that wasn’t really the case.

I liked Mags, and admired her desire to find her brother and her other siblings to reunite her family. I wish the book had done more with the historical aspect. I did enjoy the notes at the back, but there were only a couple of passing references to famous Civil War battles. I would have liked a little more history, but that’s my personal preference.

I had trouble keeping track of all the orphans, since they were all introduced at roughly the same time, and they used nicknames and their real names. I loved Miss Josephine and wished she were in the story more. Her sass was great!

It also teaches a lesson about race without being obvious. Overall, this was cute, and I’d probably give it 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3.
Profile Image for Dayna.
47 reviews14 followers
July 14, 2018
I wish this book had existed when I was a kid, who loved both sci fi and historical fiction. (I also wish there were grown-up books with this concept!) Basically, dinosaurs are alive and well during the US Civil War, and are used for carriages, mail, war, and more; and some people have empathic/telepathic connections with them. Set during the July 1863 draft riots in New York City, it follows Magdalys and her friends from the Colored Orphan Asylum as they deal with the aftermath of the riots and their friends being kidnapped to be sold into slavery. It was a fun romp that I think speaks to a wide audience of kids. It’s a complete story but also sets up the possibility for a sequel. My only complaint is that modern language/slang is a bit jarring— funny that I have no issues with suspension of disbelief with dinosaurs being alive, but the slang took me out of the story— but overall, an enjoyable book with a fun concept and diverse representation. Thanks to Scholastic for providing me with an ARC at the American Library Association conference!
Profile Image for Bethany.
134 reviews2 followers
September 8, 2020
I read this to my 9-year-old. It took MONTHS, but he loved it!
I appreciated that I was able to teach him about some tough subjects (slavery, lynching, racism) in a way that wasn't too scary for him, but still made sure he knows how serious these issues are. We're both looking forward to book 2!
Profile Image for Llyr Heller-Humphreys.
1,098 reviews7 followers
December 28, 2018
4.75. Absolutely excellent middle grade novel that mixes historical fiction and... dinosaurs.
Some of the scenes were incredibly heartbreaking, but written in a way that middle school aged kids will get a lot out of both the history and the adventure.
1,026 reviews9 followers
August 9, 2020
This is one of those books that a lot of people, myself included, are willing to give a chance just because the premise makes the sheer volume of possibilities just explode in our minds. The civil war but with dinosaurs? Yes please. Yes PLEASE.

And the result was a fascinating look at a bit of the Civil War that doesn't always get a lot of focus, at the culture of black Americans in New York at that time, and a great cast of fun characters on a mission to save lives and quash evil.

Our main character Magdalys is stuck in an orphanage where the leaders try to force her into the mold they want her in, while she fears for her brother, who's fighting in the war. We start out just on the cusp of the New York Draft riots, with the tension thick in the air, and the events that follow force our cast of children and their friends and guardians into a dangerous new life.

I found the characters to be really interesting, and Magdalys was especially fun and vibrant. Why are there dinosaurs? Who knows! But once you accept that fact, there are some interesting uses of them -- some are work animals, some are natural dangers, and some are just flat out nuisance creatures in the world. they crop up almost everywhere.

The plot was not the most in-depth thing in the world -- even taking into account the expected age group of the readership, the pacing seems to speed up and slow down with little care. but I found the rest of the pieces so interesting that it didn't bother me too much. And the ending wrapped up the first volume nicely while setting us up well for what's to come!

I learned some things reading this, and the notes at the end gave me a few more books to consider adding to my TBR pile. I found it well worth my time, I appreciate the folks who recommended it, and if you think it sounds interesting, you'd probably be doing yourself a favor to check it out.
Profile Image for Sarah.
523 reviews26 followers
September 22, 2021
CW: slavery, racism, xenophobia, war-/gun-related violence and battle deaths, harm to animals

4.5 stars. This delightful book brings us Afro-Latine middle schoolers in Brooklyn who fight a kidnapping ring that sells Black children to enslavers during the Civil War, using...wait for it...dinosaurs! as their chosen "steeds." Oh, and also, the main character can sort of...mind meld? with the dinosaurs. So basically, just about everything anyone could possibly want in a book, regardless of age. I love the fantastical writing in all of DJ Older's works, in which characters and settings leap off the page in fast-moving plots written in loud and vivid language. I'd read anything Older has written, but this one was particularly captivating.

For me it was hard to read some of the battle scenes - I don't read a lot of war books and it's hard for me to handle reading vividly-written death scenes in general, whether war-related or not. But this is a middle grade book, so they were not so bad as to be nightmare-inducing, and I still think the book is a very good (and often fun, despite the weighty topic) read. Recommend!
78 reviews3 followers
July 24, 2019
Exciting and unique. Dinosaurs, black orphans, and lost family members during the Civil War...all in New York City. What a combination for adventurous reading! It's well written, suspenseful, poignant, and humorous. The heroine, Magdalys, finds she can talk to dinosaurs and her friend Mapper, is a genius at schematics. The characters seem quite real even though they ride a long extinct Mosasaurus to save their friends from being sold into Southern slavery. Underneath the fantastical adventure are true facts about the horrors of the Civil War, in particular orphan slave trade and war casualties. I was especially impressed with the author's epilogue. She addresses story language terms, events, characters, and locations and defines them, noting if they are fiction, actual, or based on true people, places, or events during the Civil War. I really enjoyed the audio book for the narrator was excellent and spoke in the accents and dialects of the main characters in the story. At first it was hard for me to understand which deepened the impact of this novel. I recommend for grades 3-5 and older for readers interested in the unique subject matters of the story.
Profile Image for Joy Smith.
Author 14 books38 followers
June 4, 2018
I enjoyed this combination of alternate history and fantasy. I found the premise especially interesting because back in school I researched and wrote a paper on the Civil War draft riots in NYC and the burning of the Colored Orphan Asylum. Some of the events, places, and people are based on reality--including black theater and the main villain--and some are fiction, including the dinosaurs. Sounds like lots of research on the different kinds of dinosaurs and their temperaments though! The characters--the orphans and others--are interesting, and you get caught up in their every day lives--and the danger. Magdalys, our heroine, has the gift of communicating with the dinosaurs, and the courage to use that gift and fly to the rescue of her friends when necessary. Yes, this is an exciting ride. And be sure to read the author's notes about the history and the real people too.
Profile Image for Jeannie.
595 reviews2 followers
January 10, 2019
We all know that there were never dinosaurs during any part of human existence and definitely not during the Civil War. Older's addition of these "characters" makes this fantasy exciting and opens some history to younger readers. His notes at the end of the book are very important, explaining what was real and what fictions he used. In 1863 there were draft riots in New York. The participants took their fury out on blacks in Harlem and elsewhere. This gives today's students a deeper understanding of how some Northerners did feel about the war and unfortunately about blacks. The children in the Colored Orphan Asylum and other blacks were not safe and could be kidnapped and sold into slavery. There is lots of action, adventure and character development. This is just the beginning of a good series.
Profile Image for Martha.
417 reviews12 followers
March 13, 2019
Daniel José Older is important for a lot of reasons, and two of them are the creation of brown world in a MG book and the existence of a heroic trans kid in that world. And not only is the world of the book almost without white people, when they are around they're often the villains (which is an excellent reversal of the trope that has demonize non-white people in fiction basically forever), and almost always involved in the slave trade. I admire and appreciate Older's willingness to talk about slavery and gender identity in a book for kids, because I would imagine those are topic from which less writers would shy away. As usual, he does both with frankness and sensitivity, and our world is a little better for another of his books being in it.
Profile Image for Jennifer Mangler.
1,330 reviews13 followers
April 14, 2019
I love that Older has created a book with an entire cast of characters of color set during the Draft Riots, but the dinosaur stuff lost me. Then again, I'm not the target audience. I'm not sure how I feel about "historical fantasy" as a genre. I can see where this fantasy element could be very attractive to a middle grades reader, and if that pulls them into a book that deals with race relations in the North during the Civil War, then all I have to say is, "Yay." I just hope the readers of this book pay attention to Older's notes at the end that discuss the real history of this time and place. Despite my dislike of the dinosaur element, I did enjoy the book, mainly because Magdalys is a great protagonist and I really did love every member of the Dactyl Hill Squad.
Profile Image for Candice.
100 reviews6 followers
January 15, 2019
Fun middle grade novel that puts orphan kids riding on dinos fighting human trafficking during the Civil War. I would have liked to get to know the characters a bit better, as this book was heavily plot driven, but it is the first in a series, so maybe we'll get to know the characters better as it goes along.

Overall, it was fun and full of action and adventure, and I think kids who like dinosaurs and history would love it!
Profile Image for Hilary Martin.
202 reviews30 followers
July 30, 2018
Wow... this book has dinosaurs, the civil war, lost orphans, secret societies and more. It's fun and educational but parents and teachers would be wise to chat with their kids about the material as slavery and racism are major themes. There is also a scene where the orphans find a dead body. Pretty heavy stuff for a middle grade novel but I have no doubt kids can handle it.
Profile Image for Clare Lund.
604 reviews7 followers
December 18, 2018
A strange and fascinating story that imagines life during the Civil War... with dinosaurs. Magdalys and the rest of her courageous squad risk their lives to save their fellow orphans from a kidnapper with an evil plan, based on a real-life villain from the 1800s. I recommend this unique adventure for ages 8 and up!
Profile Image for Meg.
344 reviews19 followers
January 26, 2019
Oof. Very mixed bag.
The detailed notes at the end of the book describing what certain people/places were based on honestly interested me more than the rest of the story. Although Part 3 was by FAR the best part, it took a long time to get there and the writing style left a lot to be desired.
This took me three months to get through.
Profile Image for Lesley Burnap.
453 reviews5 followers
February 12, 2019
Interesting concept...fighting slavery with dinosaurs! MC is a compelling female teen-I want to know more about her story! Oh, and she can communicate with dinos & terras! Great role model! For grades 4/5+ due to content, violence, including a lynching (afterward is described). Amazing author notes, especially the section that told about basis/ background for some characters.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 261 reviews

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