Last year, after a visit to London’s Natural History Museum and a lunch of three hardboiled eggs, U.K. singer-songwriter Tom Rosenthal’s now five-year-old daughter Fenn composed a charming love song. “Dinosaurs in Love” is, predictably, about dinosaurs who fall in love and spend their time happily having parties and eating fruit and cucumber. What wasn’t expected was the devastating plot twist: “A Big Bang came and [then they] died. The song has since gone viral on multiple platforms; it was also adapted into a picture book, illustrated by Hannah Jacobs, which was released by Little, Brown last October.
According to Rosenthal, the songwriting process wasn’t new to Fenn. “We’d previously done a few songs together with her [older] sister,” he told PW. The dinosaur-themed smash-hit, however, was the first song Fenn wrote by herself. Fenn was in “good bouncy spirits” at the time the song was written, according to her father. It was crafted “little verses at a time” with Tom piecing them all together to make the final product. “Like a lot of things in life, the most beautiful things can’t be explained,” Tom said, regarding the dinosaur subject matter.
The memorable one-minute tune has been viewed more than 11 million times on YouTube and has attracted global attention from major news outlets and Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show. It achieved similar success upon its subsequent TikTok release, racking up 7.5 million views in just four days. Rosenthal praised his daughter for her “supreme confidence” and tied the appeal of the song to Fenn’s “super natural” delivery of “hard subjects.” Compared to her homemade recording and the “naturalness of a child,” he said, “the music we consume now is all so polished.” With the song going viral twice on different platforms, Rosenthal said, “TikTok was way more fun. More people could react to it in real time [with TikTok’s duetting function], and use the sound of the song to do their own interpretation of it.” Tom also enjoyed being able to reach a new audience the second time around.
The picture book Dinosaurs in Love was illustrated by Hannah Jacobs, the animator behind the song’s music video, which played a large part in the song’s viral success. “I know how YouTube works. I knew it would quickly become the dominant [link],” Tom said. He remembered calling Jacobs, a friend and collaborator, shortly after the song’s release on Twitter and asking, “Can we pull this off in a day?” With the help of 10 hardworking animators, the video was finished and uploaded to YouTube on January 31. The idea for a book came soon after the video’s release. Tom recalled being contacted by several literary agents saying the song would make a great picture book. “The idea stuck,” Tom said, “Viral stuff lasts a couple of days, then it’s gone. Me and my partner, Fenn’s mum, thought a book would be a nice tangible object to remember [the song] by.”
Little, Brown senior editor Rachel Poloski was among the millions smitten with Fenn’s lyrics. Having listened to the song so many times and seeing all the buzz it generated, Rachel reached out to Tom about making it into a book. The song was “full of light and touched on longing and loss,” she said. “We loved Fenn’s poignant words [and] wanted Hannah’s soft and sweet artwork. Tom and Hannah are close creative colleagues, so it was all very organic.” Rachel further commented on the unique experience of “working with one of the youngest authors out there and [being able to see] picture books from the eyes of a picture book audience. The excitement from Fenn, who hoped to sell 100 copies, was really adorable.”
Having previously toured Europe and played for crowds of thousands, Tom was not too fazed by the impact of the song’s fame. It’s “one big viral mess but I was fortunate to experience this before. If not, it would have been a crazy whirlwind. It’s still heavy to deal with, but [doable].” As for Fenn, “It’s normal but a bit different as well,” she said, referring to the before and after of going viral. “She has no idea the impact [the song] has on people,” Tom said with a laugh. “She will when she’s older!”
Can fans expect more from the Rosenthals? “I kind of like the challenge,” Tom tells PW. “Fenn has no plan to be a dedicated singer. We were lucky to be able to do one [song] and I’d like to follow up, but you never know with kids.” In the meantime, fans can check out Fenn and her older sister Bess’s EP “They’re Awake!” on Spotify, and Fenn’s latest solo, “Sad Sam Squirrel and the painting” on Twitter.
Dinosaurs in Love by Fenn Rosenthal, illus. by Hannah Jacobs. Little, Brown, $14.99 Oct. 2020 ISBN 978-0-316-59333-5