I feel like I should apologize for the sparse posts of late; I’d been feeling pretty good about the pace at which I was writing book reviews, but then the last few weeks got surprisingly busy and completely ruined my work ethic. (Also I finally discovered Steven Universe and got completely sucked in, but that’s another story!) In any case, I figured I’d get things back on track with a follow-up of sorts to my last post, Lifesize Dinosaurs, with a similarly themed predecessor.
Prehistoric Actual Size was released in 2005 by author/illustrator Steve Jenkins, and as with Lifesize Dinosaurs, the title pretty much sums up the contents. The book contains eighteen illustrations of prehistoric animals rendered at a 1:1 life-sized scale. For some animals, this means they easily fit within the borders of the page, while with others, we only get to see a part of them, even with the inclusion of several fold-out pages near the middle of the book. If you hoped to see more of these particular creatures than close-ups of various body parts, simply turn to the “epilogue” at the back of the book, where you can see a smaller illustration of the entire animal, along with a more extensive description of them.
I most appreciated the commendable diversity of species the author chose to highlight in this book. This book doesn’t just contain dinosaurs, but many other (sometimes surprisingly obscure) animals as well. Many popular books give small prehistoric mammals the most cursory of treatment if they’re even featured at all, but here we get three relatively obscure small mammals that I guarantee most readers have never heard of. From the ancestral Morganucodon, to the strange, bipedal Leptictidum, to the horned gopher Epigaulus, this book gives a good share of the spotlight to these perennially overlooked animals.
I also found the inclusion of a life-sized Protozoa amusing as well. As small as the period at the end of this sentence, Jenkins had to circle it on the page to make its location more obvious. Reversing the treatment given to the other animals it shares the pages with, this creature is expanded in size at the back of the book so the reader can get a better sense of the life appearance of this small yet vitally important fossil.
There’s a lot to like here, and I think most of my readers will probably enjoy this book, but unfortunately I have to say the artwork just doesn’t quite do it for me. As the illustrations represent the main focus of the book, this sorta drags the whole experience down for me overall. I really want to like the papercraft art direction, and it actually looks pretty good in some cases, especially with the invertebrates. Things get a bit dodgier with the vertebrates, however, especially the dinosaurs. While the poorly feathered Velociraptor is a particular offender, the rest of the dinosaurs also look somewhat lumpy and misshapen. It undercuts the books aesthetics, and turns a dinosaur lover like me off a bit to the whole affair. I wouldn’t necessarily say I recommend against it though, especially if you’re considering buying this for a young person who enjoyed Lifesize Dinosaurs and wants to see more prehistoric animals presented in the same manner. It works well enough for the target audience, which I admit I don’t necessarily belong to myself. Prehistoric Actual Size can be purchased here at Amazon.