Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs!

Today’s review covers the 2005 book, “Boy Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs”, written by Kathleen V. Kudlinski and illustrated by S. D. Schindler. Why do I mention the date? Well, today’s book covers the subject of the history of dinosaur paleontology, with an emphasis on the mistaken ideas of past researchers. One might almost consider it appropriate then, given the theme, that the book might have a few mistakes of its own if enough time has passed, as indeed we find here. We of course must consider the publication date if we are to critique such mistakes, which will affect how we should score them.

(As always, we’ve also uploaded a video version of our review on YouTube, if that suits your fancy!)

Now, I’ve always enjoyed dinosaurs in and of themselves, but in the past few years, I’ve become increasingly interested in the history of paleontology, which makes this book of particular interest to me. (I’ll try my best to remain impartial!) I’m always keen on any dinosaur book that goes deeper than mere “Pokemon collecting”, so to speak (i.e., you get some actual information beyond just the name and some basic stats about the animal).

Anyway, on to the book at hand. Kudlinski presents the information throughout the book in a clear, easy to understand manner, with little to no technical jargon. Starting with the discovery of “dragon bones” in ancient China, she gives a brief overview of various erroneous ideas people have held about dinosaurs and the newer, more accurate ideas we have about them today (or at least at the time of the book’s printing!).

Boy Were We Wrong! China
Ancient Chinese medicinal manuscripts contain the earliest known mentions of “dragon bones”.

I do feel that at a few points, the author could have gone into, if not greater detail, perhaps more precise detail. The author mentions how scientists originally mistook Iguanodon’s thumb spike for a nose horn, but doesn’t mention its key role in determining the life posture of dinosaurs, a topic she explores on the very next page. She actually does give the topic pretty thorough treatment, though, even if she missed an easy chance to tie multiple concepts together.

Boy Were We Wrong! Iguanodon

Later, while on the subject of dinosaur parental care, she exclaims “Boy were we wrong!” to think that dinosaurs acted like lizard mothers, who abandon their eggs. While she correctly highlights the strong parental instincts of some species as evidenced by many fossil nesting sites, additional sites show that other species seemingly did indeed abandon their eggs in lizard-like fashion (namely the long-necked sauropod dinosaurs).

The book does treat the subject of dinosaur energy with a nuanced hand. The author mentions how dinosaurs were originally thought to have been warm-blooded, before examination of their bones structure led to the conclusion they were warm blooded. However, scientists have since gone back a bit and suggested they may have been “something in-between”. I also appreciated the page near the end emphasizing that birds aren’t merely related to dinosaurs; if they are descended from them, then they technically ARE dinosaurs themselves!

I have somewhat more complicated opinions on the artwork, however. Overall, I generally like Schindler’s style. I’m never one to turn up my nose at paleoart that eschews any attempt at photorealism. However, even taking the illustrator’s style into account, a few of the dinosaurs seem oddly proportioned, which I don’t believe to be an intentional result of their slightly cartoony appearance. Given the subject material, I assume the illustrator intended for animals depicted in the “modern” vignettes to be taken at face value.

Boy Were We Wrong! feathers1
Pro Tip: the wings ARE the hands.  The feathers don’t stop at the wrist.

It’s not too bad for the most part though, and I might not have much more to say about the illustrations if not for the feathered dinosaurs, which fare far worse. Most represent quite egregious examples of the “tarred and feathered” and “wings… but with hands!” tropes common in much early paleoart depicting feathered dinosaurs. These tropes were particularly common around the time the book came out. I’m tempted to give the book a pass on this point for that reason, but really, there was never any reason for the trope to exist in the first place. It’s really just a sign that the illustrator was playing follow-the-leader when deciding how to illustrate the feathers.

It’s been pointed out by others before me that feathered dinosaurs should not be hard at all; just draw them like you would birds! In fact, Schindler illustrates three quite beautiful modern birds, two of which even appear in an evolutionary sequence image with several ugly, tarred-and-feathered ancestors. The juxtaposition in this image would seem to suggest a bit of carelessness on the illustrator’s part. (And don’t even get me started on the buck-naked Velociraptor near the front of the book!)

Boy Were We Wrong! feathers2
Gah! Why are they so unnecessarily ugly? Even the Archaeopteryx is weirdly scraggly looking.
Boy Were We Wrong! feathers3
See? This doesn’t have to be that hard! Just keep drawing feathers like that!

I feel like I’ve been a little down on the book for not quite living up to what I feel it easily could have been, but I don’t think it’s all that bad. It still presents good information, and given the strong retro pull of many kid’s dinosaur books, it is still better than many books out there even today. If you have a young reader who has an interest in the history of paleontology, I recommend purchasing “Boy Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs!” for your own home library! (For even younger readers, I recommend the similarly-themed Dinosaurs Can’t Roar!, while slightly older readers may enjoy the historical perspectives in Tales of the Prehistoric World.)

Incidentally, I feel I should give a little plug to the small business I purchased this book from! If you are in the Orange County area of Southern California, pay a visit to “Once Upon a Storybook“, a wonderful little bookstore that focuses entirely on children’s literature. They have an excellent selection of all the best children’s books, and they do a weekly story time along with other special events. I made story time part of our weekly routine with my first kid back when we still lived in California, and we always had a blast!


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