I periodically peruse social media looking for leads on interesting new books to feature here, an exercise that has led me to more than a few unexpected gems. I stumbled across the subject of today’s review while killing time in precisely such a manner; one of the parenting accounts I follow on Instagram had uploaded a post showing off their recent purchase of Dinosaur Devotions, by Michelle Medlock Adams, and illustrated by Denise Turu. Published in 2018, this book had flown completely under the radar for me, and is by any measure a bit of an odd duck in the world of dinosaur books. Many of my readers may find it odd to mix dinosaurs with Bible lessons, until one remembers the influence of creationist organizations. There’s no shortage of books that attempt to use dinosaurs as a hook to attempt to tear down the basics of geology and paleontology, and one might feel tempted to overlook Dinosaur Devotions as yet another entry in this bloated market. Even the most cursory of glances shatters this notion, however, and upon looking into this book myself, found myself rather impressed at the effort the author went to in producing a faith based book that utilizes paleontological discoveries in good faith (does that count as a “dad joke”?). Whatever your opinions on religion, this book at least deserves a look for its unique place in the landscape of children’s literature.
Dinosaur Devotions contains 75 two-page entries that cover various dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures (with a different animal for every lesson, except Tyrannosaurus rex and Oviraptor, which each get two entries). Adams relates some interesting anecdote about each animal, then uses that as an object lesson to illustrate some Christian principle, with appropriate Bible verses to back them up. As a sucker for the history of science in general and paleontology in particular, I particularly enjoyed the lessons based around the history of discoveries and ideas concerning certain fossils.
For example, we learn how “Oviraptor” was misnamed “egg thief” because it was thought to be stealing from a nest of eggs, only for scientists to later realize it had been trying to protect its own eggs. The author reassures the reader that unlike dinosaurs, we aren’t stuck with the labels we create based on our mistakes or the false accusations of others. In fact, as she points out, God even occasionally changes people’s names to signify their new lease on life, such as when Jacob (“the deceiver”) became known as Israel (“wrestles with God”). As someone with self-esteem issues and a penchant for dinosaur history, I also found the entry on Brontosaurus particularly nice. Adams summarizes the animal’s convoluted back story, from its place in Cope and Marsh’s “Bone Wars” to its ultimate vindication, and comforts the readers that, like Brontosaurus, they are not a mistake, whatever anyone else may think.
A cute, child friendly illustration by Turu accompanies each entry, and while the artist primarily focuses on an appealing, cartoonish style, I found myself rather pleased with her attention to the special features of many of the dinosaurs. I just wish she had been a bit more consistent. While most of the dinosaurs can be clearly identified, others can be rather nondescript and generic looking. A very small amount are downright inaccurate, such as the scaly Utahraptor and Velociraptor, though the artist makes up for these by feathering just about every other dinosaur that should have them, including a rather nice Xiaotingia. My initial interest in the book actually originated with this page here. The aforementioned Instagram post included this Xiaotingia, which not only displays its full, proper coat of feathers, but even mentions the uncertainty many scientists express in determining the line between “bird” and “non-bird” dinosaurs. Most other dinosaur themed books with a Christian bent do everything they can to steer readers away from this topic, so I found it refreshing to see this so matter-of-factly included in this book!
While Adams occasionally glosses over certain scientific facts and hypotheses for the sake of simplicity, it’s clear she really did her research in the making of this book, with some of her entries containing up-to-the-minute information as of the book’s release, such as Patagotitan, which only received its official name the year before Dinosaur Devotions saw publication. I was particularly impressed by the consistent reference to actual scientists, both historic and modern, something most children’s books omit entirely. The entry on Giraffatitan relates how a 2009 study by SV-POW’s own Mike Taylor conclusively proved it belonged in its own genus, rather than as a species of Brachiosaurus (used as a lesson to illustrate that we are all unique in God’s eyes). Adams mentions Paul Sereno’s work in an inhospitable African desert known as Gadoufaoua, or “the place where camels fear to tread”, in her entry on the discovery of Nigersaurus (used to illustrate the idea that sometimes the trials we must endure in life end up leading us to amazing blessings we would have never known otherwise). Historical names like Cope & Marsh, Henry Fairfield Osborn, and Roy Chapman Andrews all get credit as well.
I find Dinosaur Devotions incredibly interesting, especially as an outlier in the publishing landscape, straddling what some might consider completely unrelated worlds in literature. As pretty much the only book of its kind, there was plenty of room for it to be a forgettable cash-in. While its occasional mistakes might tempt me to rate it lower if the situation were different, given its unique context, especially with the target audience in mind, Dinosaur Devotions earns my enthusiastic endorsement. While I’m sure many of my readers don’t have any particular interest in Christianity, I heartily recommend it to those that do. Dinosaur Devotions easily wins the Dino Dad Stomp of Approval!