Local authors, Refe and Susan Tuma, began photographing their dinosaur adventures in 2012, creating Dinovember and igniting the imaginations of children young and old across the world.
This adventure began in a very unexpected way. When their son was little, he had health problems that kept him up at night. This went on for two years and left Susan and Refe exhausted. They would wake up each morning and have nothing left to offer their older kids. So, one night, after putting the kids to bed, they came across a box of old dinosaur toys. Susan decided to set them up in the bathroom sink and give them the kids’ toothbrushes and figured it might give the kids something to smile about when they woke up.
The next morning, their daughter burst into their room and pulled them out of bed. The dinosaurs had come to life, and she had caught them brushing their teeth!
“Her reaction was so unexpected and priceless. That’s when we knew the dinosaurs would come to life again—and they did, for the entire month of November,” explains Refe.
They took pictures to share with friends and family and called the month-long event ‘Dinovember’. When the dinosaurs returned the next year, they posted an essay called Welcome to Dinovember as a sort of FAQ for friends and family.
“When I logged in the next day, I discovered that two-million people had read the essay. It was syndicated by the Huffington Post, and the story was picked up by the Washington Post, Metro UK, and others. I started getting emails from literary agents and editors who wanted to talk about expanding the essay into a full-length photo book, which sent us in complete shock.”
In fact, the Tuma’s have been surprised by every part of this experience.
Susan and Refe are co-creators in every sense and work together on every step of the process. Refe started out doing most of the writing since that’s a big part of his background, and Susan took the lead early on in the photography department, but now there isn’t quite as much distinction—it’s almost entirely collaborative.
“It’s more fun that way. We have different approaches, so one person’s idea is refined or informed by the other’s, and it brings out better work from both of us,” says Refe.
For their upcoming book What the Dinosaurs Did at School, they photographed on location at several area elementary schools as well as the downtown branch of the Kansas City Public Library. They were even able to convince one of them to let them bring a commercial foam machine and pump dozens of gallons of foam down a staircase. (If you want to know what the dinosaurs could possibly be doing with all that foam, you’ll have to get the book!)
All of the photographs in What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night and What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night: A Very Messy Adventure were taken in the Tuma’s home. The ice avalanche in the first book? That was 100% real ice—about 750 pounds of it. The mud splattered all over their living room at the climax of Messy Adventure? All real.
When asked to give advice to aspiring authors out there, the Tuma’s expressed the importance of just diving in.
“If you want to be an author, don’t wait to be discovered—start telling stories now. Before Dinovember and What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night, Susan and I had been talking about writing children’s books together for nearly a decade. I had spent the previous two years writing and publishing short stories in small literary magazines just because I love to write,” says Rafe.
Their third book, What the Dinosaurs Did at School will be published June 2017 and is available for preorder now.