Having just reviewed Oh Say Can You Say Di-no-saur?, we now move on to its sequel of sorts, Once Upon a Mastodon! Another entry in The Cat in the Hat Learning Library series, this book covers Pleistocene mammals, which will be familiar to anyone obsessed with the Ice Age, but don’t generally get the same pop culture coverage as the dinosaurs. Again authored by Bonnie Worth, this time the illustrations come to us from Aristides Ruiz (fantastic name, btw) and Joe Mathieu.
The book employs the same typically Suessian rhyming scheme as its Oh Say Can You Say Di-no-saur?, which makes it a pleasure to read out loud to your kids, and a breeze for them to read out loud. The information presented manages to get so much more in-depth than its predecessor, while never once feeling like it bogs down the flow of the book with excessive info dumps.
Once Upon a Mastodon describes the animals much better than Oh Say Can You Say Di-no-saur?, right down to pointing out specific differences between mammoth and mastodon teeth! Not only that, but it even explores the “How?” of paleontology much more thoroughly than its predecessor.
It even presents the reader with specific famous specimens like “Blue Babe” the bison mummy, and specific dig sites like the Mammoth Site at Hot Springs, South Dakota! I’m hard pressed to think any similar type of book that so presents the particulars of actual paleontology, even among more “serious” kids volumes about prehistoric animals.
The illustrations by Ruiz & Mathieu are fantastic, again, especially in comparison to the previous book. While still closely adhering to a very Suessian style, this book blows its prequel out of the water in terms of capturing an accurate picture of the animals. This includes a near perfect representation of the bison mummy specimen known as “Blue Babe”, right down to the tears in its hide. (Also, is it just me, or do the classic Suess characters even feel more on-model than in the previous book somehow?)
On the whole, Once Upon a Mastodon is a much more careful and VASTLY more thoughtful work than its predecessor. It delivers an admirable amount of truly quality information that always engages and never bores the reader, and it is an excellent example of how to properly caricature real animals, especially in the context of an educational book.
I also take this as proof that an educational tie-in to a preexisting intellectual property doesn’t have to be some cheap throw-away product made as an afterthought for a quick buck. It really takes advantage of the possibilities available to the pop culture weight a franchise like this possesses, and puts it to use for good promoting a subject that doesn’t receive nearly enough attention compared to, say, dinosaurs. I found myself pleasantly surprised by the quality of this book, and give it an enthusiastic Dino Dad Stomp of Approval! You can purchase it here on Amazon.