Annual tradition has its own Facebook page, Twitter account and now a book, "What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night"
What's November to most of us is Dinovember for the Tuma family and their fans across the globe.
Each night for the entire month, the Tumas' herd of molded-plastic dinosaurs wreak havoc in their Kansas City, Missouri, house after the four children go to bed. The vandals dump cereal boxes and devour eggs. They fry bacon and go fishing in the family's aquarium. They spin from the ceiling fan, zipline across the dining room and spray graffiti on the walls.
What started in 2012 as a delirious diversion during another wakeful night for Refe and Susan Tuma — their son suffered health problems as an infant — has become an annual tradition with its own Facebook page, Twitter account and now a book, "What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night" (Little, Brown and Company). Filled with photographic proof of the dinosaurs' escapades and the parents' heroic creativity, it's a mood-boosting page-turner for anyone who has ever posed a plastic toy.
"I told him it would be good for his spines," reads the caption next to a scene in which two Cretaceous miscreants have duct-taped a stegosaurus upside-down to the wall.
This mischief comes with consequences and, at times, considerable cost. The dinos trigger an ice-machine avalanche in one scene the Tumas conceived for the book, not realizing that it would require far more than one trip to the grocery store.
"We ended up with 600 pounds of ice cubes before it reached from the floor to the ice dispenser," Tuma said. But it's one of his favorite pages in the book, with the triceratops skiing down the slope, scarf flying.
Other scenes, including one in which the dinos stare gape-mouthed at a broken window — mini-basketball lodged in the panes of shattered glass — take advantage of coincidence.
"What we realized is, with four kids, our house is going to look like it's overrun by dinosaurs anyway, so this is just our way of embracing it," Tuma said.
The first year, the Tumas shared the dinosaurs' exploits with Facebook friends and family (including Refe Tuma's father, Rick, an illustrator at the Chicago Tribune). Last year, the Tumas posted a piece called "Welcome to Dinovember" to medium.com. In 48 hours it was read by more than two million people. The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post and Metro UK wrote about the phenomenon. Publishers called with different visions: Is it a children's book? Is it for adults?
The Tumas wanted something in between. That became "What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night," with 80 scenes accompanied by the kind of witty captions that could spawn a line of greeting cards and giftable novelties.
As of now, the Tumas have received more than 6,000 messages and photos of adults staging copycat crimes and capers. Dinos have made pasta in Italy, tended bar in New York and built Lego cities in Switzerland.
One London mother took the concept to a therapeutic level for her son, diagnosed on the autism spectrum. The scenes she staged coaxed him to talk about the dinosaurs' social interaction and to imagine their thoughts and feelings.
"His whole therapy group ended up doing it; they blew up the photos to poster size," said Tuma, who works on user-experience concepts for a software company. "That was so cool, because we never would have thought to use this for something that is so practical for these kids."
The Tumas' children, now ages 7, 6, 3 and 1, show no signs of flagging interest, although the oldest by now knows who's behind the shenanigans.
"She doesn't want us to tell her," Tuma said. "She would much rather continue having fun than to put it into some category."
So would Refe and Susan Tuma, who discovered that their parental roles are compatible with their creative impulses.
"At its heart," he said, "Dinovember is a celebration of imagination."