Book review: When Dinos Dawned….

I would have put the full title of the book in the title of of the post, but frankly I thought it might end up filling the whole page. “When Dinos Dawned, Mammals got Munched & Pterosaurs took Flight: a Cartoon Prehistory of Life in the Triassic” is probably one of the longest titles going, but this is perhaps the only real criticism I can have of this book.

This entry is the latest in a series for National Geographic by author / artist Hannah Bonner. It’s aimed at children quite clearly, but I think there’s enough depth to be of interest to adults and bring a little enlightenment to even knowledgeable readers. The science is basically perfect, and the material is presented in a fun and accessible manner. The drawings are simple in style, but extremely accurate in terms of anatomy and settings and nicely executed – there are ‘cartoon’ style animals for various panels, but the majority of the content is more like the cover shown here.

The Triassic is of course a time when lots of interesting things were happening. While perhaps understandably most books like this would focus on dinosaurs and by extension the Jurassic and Cretaceous, there is a lot more to the Mesozoic than just dinosaurs and the Triassic has most of that covered. Odd crocs, aetosaurs, phytosaurs, the first pterosaurs, the first icthyosaurs, prolacertiforms and the weirdness that is things like Longisquama. A lot of these are unlikely to be on the radar of a young dinosaur enthusiast, so this really helps fill in the picture of what was going on in terms of evolution and the changing faunas.

Obviously the reptiles get to dominate this, but mammals, insects and even plants get a decent look-in and are put in context of what was going on. It was also good to see lots of more obscure things get a look in – even books that do cover aetosaurs or the like will often include a token animal – I certainly can’t think of any previous effort that covered three (count them!) drepanosaurs. When the rhynchosaurs, Panphagia, Lotosaurus, Odontochelys and Proterosuchus also get a mention and are illustrated, well it’s just lovely.

At this point I should probably note that I’m reviewing this because I was lucky enough to be sent a preview copy. My colleague Corwin Sullivan played a major role as a consultant on this book given his work on various Triassic critters and Hannah also contacted me during her research (but I don’t recall even giving her any specific help in the end). Still, she was kind enough to arrange for me to get a free copy and I’ll gladly cover it here (especially after I spotted a reference to the Musings in a list of useful websites in the back). Certainly the accuracy is to Corwin’s credit for his advice and to Hannah’s for taking it, and the book certainly benefits as a result.

Overall though this is an excellent effort with much to recommend about it – good science, nice art, a great theme and well written. While I’d imagine the market is a little limited, this is going to go down very will with all kinds of kids who like their dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasties but want to know more and have more than enough books discussing Diplodocus and Tyrannosaurus. Great stuff.

10 Responses to “Book review: When Dinos Dawned….”

  1. 1 Allen Hazen 09/05/2012 at 11:29 pm

    “Children” are a varied lot. What age-group would you think this was best for? Littlies whose parents read it to them? My guess is it’s more for school-age children, but which grade would you think the most appropriate recipient would be? (I’m writing in my capacity as grandfather…)

    • 2 David Hone 10/05/2012 at 9:28 am

      Fair question. Though I’m hardly an expert on kids, I’d guess something in the 8-12 rage was about right. Though of course a smart 6 year old would probably get most of it.

  2. 3 Koriling3 10/05/2012 at 9:32 am

    I think it just for school-age children

  3. 4 Tim Donovan 10/05/2012 at 1:36 pm

    The kids may be wondering where are their old favorites, Stegosaurus, T.rex, Triceratops, ankylosaurus? The triassic never did capture people’s imaginations like the Jurassic and Cretaceous, so a book like this is..pretty unusual, maybe even risky as a publishing venture.

  4. 5 kattato Garu 10/05/2012 at 6:39 pm

    This looks great and I have been looking for something Triassic since the Jurassic and Cretaceous dinos get all the glory (and the kids know them all!!), but hmm, whilst a bit of flesh is OK I am concerned that my girls would be much put off by the gloopy intestines spilling out of the Herrerasaur’s unfortunate prey…

  5. 6 Greg Leitich Smith 10/05/2012 at 7:33 pm

    I’d call it a book for middle grade readers in the neighborhood of 8-12 years old. It and the other two books in the WHEN series are amazingly thorough for length and format. (The other two are pre-Mesozoic).

    The book would make a good supplement to your more standard A to Z dinosaur encyclopedias from National Geographic or Dorling-Kindersly.

  6. 7 Kilian Hekhuis 23/05/2012 at 8:16 am

    Looks great, though I won’t get my hopes up for a Dutch translation…

  7. 8 Eleanor Platt 15/02/2013 at 8:38 pm

    My daughter is 4 1/2 and loves all things dinosaur and knows far more and has quite an extensive knowledge on the subject far above her years. We just discovered the delights by chance of the beautiful Longisquama. Lilly has been searching for other pictures,information on longisquama but so far it’s pretty thin on the ground. She was quite broke hearted tonight and I came across your page in my search to find out some more. I would be so grateful if you could help me? Thankyou on behalf of my dingo girl Lilly xx

    • 9 David Hone 16/02/2013 at 9:31 am

      Hi Eleanor,

      I’m afraid there’s very little out there on Longisquama. There’s only one ‘good’ fossil and that has most of the body missing and isn’t very well preserved. Most of the attention has focused on the plumes (mistaken by some as feathers) on the back of the animal (and a few loose ones are known as well) but we don’t have a great idea what these are either.

      In short, there’s very little scientific information out there, and as a result, even less in the more popular literature for the public.

  8. 10 Eleanor Platt 15/02/2013 at 8:39 pm

    Of course she is a dinogirl! Pesky autocorrect! X

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