THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Did Dinosaurs Have Dentists: by Patrick O’Donnell

When I started this new blog post series, I did it with the idea of sharing the WHY I created my stories, but then I thought…why not share OTHER authors STORY BEHIND “THEIR” STORY? I put the call out and soon I had tons of authors who wanted to share their backstories with my readers. This week my friend and children’s book author, Patrick O’Donnell, is sharing the WHY he wrote his book, “Did Dinosaurs Have Dentists?”. Take it away, Patrick…

Did Dinosaurs Have Dentists? by Patrick O’Donnell

When I finally scratched up the courage to pursue my dream of becoming an author, there was a tiny voice inside of my head saying, “Really? Is right now the best time for this? Shouldn’t you wait until things calm down?”

It was 2015, and most days it felt like I was stuck in the grey fog of nightmares. After about 6 years as a stay-at-home Dad and freelance writer, my world was turning upside down.

Among other things, I was 1) in the middle of a divorce and custody battle 2) trying to reinvent my career with a full-time job in advertising 3) struggling to maintain a civil relationship with my adoptive parents, who were upset I’d discovered my birth family. Raised as an only child, it turned out I was actually the youngest of nine! It was quite a revelation after nearly 50 years — and Mom and Dad felt threatened.

My days went something like this: Wake, feed the boys, race them to daycare, race to work, juggle deadlines, snarkiness and stress for a shift, then race back to daycare before late fees kicked in. I’d get home, make dinner, and spend a little time with my guys before getting them to bed. Then I’d finish leftover work from my day job or catch up on freelance projects before stumbling off to bed myself.

Somewhere in all this, my younger son needed to have a cavity filled — and that’s what sparked the idea for Did Dinosaurs Have Dentists?

We were driving to the dentist, and he was scared, dreading the drill, and trying to convince me the cavity would fix itself if we just “let it go.”

Not wanting to delve into Disney tune territory, and unwilling to run all his food through a blender for the foreseeable future, I played around with alliteration to occupy his mind. He loved dinosaurs, and the image of a tyrannosaurus and a squashed tube of toothpaste popped into my head. Soon, we were laughing over questions like, “Did a brachiosaurus ever need braces?”

The distraction worked wonders for both of us, and I found myself jotting notes on a cell phone in the waiting room.

Over the next year, working on the book helped me to focus and stay positive despite the chaos around me. And when it was time to find an illustrator, my new-found brother said, “Do you know you have a nephew who’s an amazing artist?”

A few phone calls and emails later, and I was working with the incredibly talented Erik Mehlen — the adult son of one my sisters. By 2017, we were ready for the next step, and I sent our samples to Schiffer Publishing. In 2018, Did Dinosaurs Have Dentists? rolled off the printing press. Sadly, Dad passed away before he saw it — but Mom loved it, and it helped melt away some of her resentment.

Here’s the book’s blurb:

“What if a brachiosaurus needed braces? If a tyrannosaurus used toothpaste, would it squash the tube? A young child on the way to a dental checkup wonders if dinosaurs ever had cavities and if they had to brush their teeth, floss, get braces, and use fluoride or mouthwash. This whimsical picture book includes eleven common terms related to dental and oral health, along with a glossary of name pronunciations and fun, scientific facts about each of the eleven dinosaurs mentioned in the story. It takes an imaginative, humorous look at dinosaurs’ dental health and eases children’s fears about going to the dentist, while cleverly encouraging them to take care of their own teeth.”

After the success of Dinosaurs, Erik and I teamed up for our second Schiffer book, Do Penguins Have Pediatricians? which came out in 2019 — and was also inspired by my sons.

These days I’m working on two other projects close to my heart: A going-to-bed book for children on the autism spectrum, and the story of a young lady who rescues wild animals. Both were inspired by people in my life — and someday soon, I hope to tell the story behind their stories, too.


Patrick O’Donnell is a writer, editor and children’s book author who lives outside Boyertown, Pennsylvania with his two sons and their furred and feathered menagerie.

He has been writing stories since he was eight years old, and he’s only ever had two cavities. Patrick’s held many jobs, including copy editor, cook, landscaper, photographer, and even small-engine mechanic, but his favorite jobs are writer and father.

His boys used to be afraid of the dentist, but they love to visit now. They also love dinosaurs, spaghetti, story time … and leaving Legos on the floor.

Want to connect?