Dinosaur Train, a relatively new addition to the morning PBS Kids television line-up, is a cartoon about a Pteranodon family with an adopted Tyrannosaurus Rex. This motley crew takes family trips on the Dinosaur Train to learn about other dinosaurs and visit them in their prehistoric habitat. The Time Tunnel marks the train’s passage through time, acknowledging the different periods in which dinosaurs lived. Dinosaur Train combines children’s love of dinosaurs, trains and sense of adventure into a fun, 30-minute show for kids.
Both my 3 year old boy and 5 year old girl love to run around the house re-enacting the preschool-age, dinosaur characters, Tiny, Shiny and Buddy. They jump on and off the train. “All aboard!” they shout as they pull their arms down blowing the pretend whistle in the air. They go on fishing adventures and flying escapades. They learn about which dinosaurs swim, fly, walk on four legs, run on two legs, or have spikes or long tails.
My kids also learn about what dinosaurs eat for lunch. To my surprise, this ancient reptile insider scoop is my children’s favorite obsession. Both my kids from the time they could pick up food with their fingers, loved to eat vegetables. They can relate to the herbivores munching on leaves and plants. But what about the Pteranodon family fishing for their supper? Ever since Dinosaur Train hit PBS my kids have been questioning the fish on my dinner plate. “Really, that’s fish?” my 5 year old exclaims. “It doesn’t look like fish.” “You eat fish?” “How did you catch it?” asks my 3 year old. And so the string of tough questions begin; how fish goes from alive in the water to lifeless on our kitchen table. I don’t mind the inquisition. I am sure my children’s curiosity is age-appropriate. I just won’t expect them to taste my fish any time soon.
My real concern is when my kids find out what Buddy, the preschool-age T-Rex, eats for lunch. I haven’t watched every episode with my kids but, so far, I haven’t heard any mention of what’s in T-Rex’s lunchbox. “Meat,” my kids say. “Buddy eats meat and fish.” They know fish and have seen the dinosaurs catch and eat them. But meat – what is that exactly? The show teaches kids about our similarities and differences, yet skirts around a basic fact of life. T-Rex is a carnivore. He eats other dinosaurs.
I have only recently gotten my daughter to eat a hamburger. Meat has never rated high on either of my kids’ yummy list. I strive to teach by example so I always hope that if they see me eating meat, one day they too will want some. However, since Dinosaur Train, I get the feeling that my days are numbered. If seeing Pteranodons swooping in to make a kill for their fish dinner sends them into a flurry of questions about what I am eating, what will she think of my steak?
Don’t get me wrong. I love the show. It has catchy music, adorable animation and everyone learns to play together. I simply dread the day Buddy, the adopted T-Rex, realizes who he is and what he eats. Maybe my fears are for nothing. Maybe PBS has it all under control and, like a good soap opera, will keep up the search for Buddy’s true nature, throughout its broadcast run, without resolution.