Gather ‘round kids, because today we’re taking a look one of my all-time favorite children’s book on prehistoric life! In fact, this very book bears some responsibility for the creation of Dino Dad Reviews in the first place! I first discovered “I Am NOT a Dinosaur!” a couple of years ago at a local library, and upon hearing me gush over how much I liked it, my wife suggested I harness that passion, which ultimately led to where we are today! I suppose I’ve already given up the game, but I didn’t feel like beating around the bush here. If you simply want to know whether to buy it, go do so now!
Of course, as long as we’re here, I certainly won’t turn down a chance to blab about it more! Written by Will Lach and illustrated by Jonny Lambert, with excellent artwork, great science communication, and fantastic writing, “I Am NOT a Dinosaur!” has a lot to like.
Lach’s writing takes the form of rhyming stanzas, with a very readable rhythm that makes it very pleasant to read out loud. While this naturally limits the amount of information conveyed, I nevertheless found myself very impressed with how much Lach did manage to squeeze in. Through use of his rather poetic prose, he skillfully relates the defining aspects of each creature, all while utilizing a vocabulary anyone in its target audience can understand. I also found myself continually amused at the number of words he managed to rhyme with “dinosaur”. So, while the actual science within the main body of text may be a bit light, it nevertheless manages to deftly convey its principle aim; that of the incredible diversity of interesting prehistoric life that often gets left out of books exclusively focused on dinosaurs.
Of course, after an entire book of creatures emphatically stating “I Am NOT a Dinosaur!”, this naturally leads kids to wonder “Okay, but what IS a dinosaur?” Happily, the book satisfies its readers’ nature fondness for these eminent saurians at end, indulging us with several famous members of the family. Norell’s forward, and an afterword by the author, goes into more detail on the proper definition of “dinosaur”, and what does and does not fall into this category.
I love Lambert’s illustrations, which have a cute papercraft sort of look to them. It reminds me of dinosaur collages I used to make out of various shapes I would cut out of colored construction paper, though none of them looked as lovely as this! While highly stylized, Lambert’s illustrations still remain very faithful to the probable life appearance of these ancient animals. I might give the Velociraptor at the end of the book larger wing feathers, but I couldn’t possibly nitpick any further than that. (I might’ve similarly commented on the lack of feathers on the Tyrannosaurus, but recent debates have left that more open to interpretation that I would have thought a few months ago.) I’ve got a fondness for timelines (as my last book review proves), so I very much approve of the addendum at the back of the book showing each creature in relation to the other on a small time chart.
My only issue with the book makes me feel like the worst kind of pedantic nerd, but I can’t get away from the fact that the book’s inconsistent naming scheme drives me a little crazy. In some instances it refers to the featured animal by its scientific name, while referring to others by their specific popular names, while in still other instances merely applies the name of an entire taxonomic family to the individual species shown on the page. I found this inconsistency a bit confusing. For instance, why not simply refer to “Lestodon” as a giant sloth? If you’ve got an illustration of Glyptodon itself, why refer to it by the general family name of “glyptodont”? I could go on, but I already sound obnoxious enough after just these two examples. Ultimately, I have to acknowledge that it’s not really something I can or should really complain about, and it does nothing to detract from the excellence of the book as a whole.
I will say however that I really appreciated the use of the genus name “Latimeria” rather than the more general name “coelacanth” (pronounced “seel-uh-canth” for those not in the know). For all the talk about the modern coelacanth’s claim to fame as a “living fossil”, we tend to gloss over the fact that we don’t actually have any fossil record of the modern coelacanth! It is known from nothing but live (or at least fresh) specimens. The coelacanth family actually contains a wide variety of different species, from smaller than a trout to as big as a car! The two living species of coelacanths bear noticeable differences from its fossil relatives, such that scientists can comfortably place them into the unique genus Latimeria. It even behaves differently than its ancestors presumably did, living in deeper water rather than the shallow marine and freshwater habitats of its extinct forbears. It really is a mistake to refer to this fish as having “remained unchanged for millions of years” as one so often hears in reference it, and I think referring to it by its specific name actually does far more than one might think to help dispel this myth. I’m rather pleased at least that my little ones now know it primarily as “Latimeria” thanks to this book!
Well, as I said in my introduction, I’ve already given away the game, sp I hardly need to say much in summation. While my love of dinosaurs knows no bounds, even I have no problem admitting they hog the limelight away from equally deserving prehistoric beasts. “I Am NOT a Dinosaur!” does a fantastic job of introducing kids to some of them while confronting the misapplication of the name “dinosaur” to anything old and extinct. I’ve actually started buying this as birthday presents when my little ones get invited to parties, so I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I give this an extremely enthusiastic Dino Dad “Stomp of Approval”!!!