I’d like to take a moment to appreciate the marvels of the Information Age. We can connect to so many people and learn about so many things with a few simple clicks! We truly live in a privileged time. Compared to all the internet has to offer, my own interests seem laughably narrow, but I’m no less appreciative of the opportunities available to me. Just to pick a few examples, I likely never would’ve discovered titles such as Lifesize Dinosaurs or Dinosaur Devotions otherwise, and the same could be said for the subject of today’s review, X-Ray Dinosaurs and other Prehistoric Creatures.
I forget how I first stumbled across it, save that I was checking my Dino Dad Reviews Instagram feed at the time, but in any case I discovered a few posts by both Pygmy Giraffe Publishing and illustrator Cody Hooper-Kaufmann, advertising the recent release of this book. Intrigued, I got to chatting with the publisher, and they offered to send me a review copy to feature here on the blog! Many thanks to them for providing me with this lovely book.
Written by Susan R. Stoltz, and edited by former Phoenix Zoo coworker Sandi K. Drewitz, X-Ray Dinosaurs unsurprisingly features a variety of skeletal illustrations of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, such as sea reptiles and pterosaurs. Hooper-Kaufmann spices things up by rendering soft tissue outlines in vibrant, abstract watercolor patterns, which also occasionally highlight specific body structures like wing feathers and beaks. The skeletons look great for the most part, though a couple seem a little wonky, most noticeably the Triceratops, which has a weirdly shrunken lower jaw. The pterosaurs and feathered dinosaurs (including birds like Archaeopteryx and Gastornis) consistently look the best (no mean feat), as well as the sea reptiles.
I’d have to single out the Giraffatitan as my favorite, however. Framed as though the viewer is looking down on it from a great height, the skull features front and center, giving us a great view of what SV-POW’s Mathew Wedel has jokingly called “Old Toilet-Bowl Head”. Normally I’d disapprove of the in-your-face presentation, which, as I mentioned in Lifesize Dinosaurs, generally works against creating a good sense of scale for the largest dinosaurs. Here, however, the acrophobic angle really helps accentuate Giraffatitan’s height, making this a rare exception to the general rule.
Stoltz accompanies each illustration with some brief factoids about the animal (pronunciation, location, size, diet, etc.) as well as a few lines of rhyming verse providing a little additional context. As with most such paleo-poetry, some pedantics might feel the facts get stretched in a few places for the sake of a good rhyme. I don’t think any of them make any egregious errors, though, so I think we can allow a bit of artistic license. (For example; “A gigantic head for a dino that flew / Dimorphodon had two kinds of teeth and could chew.” Pterosaurs couldn’t technically chew the way we would think of it, but I can see what the author was going for. And yes, calling it a dino might be a stretch, too, but she also clarifies that it’s a “ptero” in the next line, so again, I think we can make this concession for the sake of artistic license.)
I enjoy the writing and design of X-Ray Dinosaurs, which makes for some fun, light reading with the kids. The use of watercolors to paint in the soft tissue outlines is inspired, and I know I for one would like to see more paleoartists experiment with this style. Though the coloring tends towards the abstract here, the occasions where Hooper-Kaufmann does use them to accentuate certain features suggests a novel approach to adding additional information to traditional skeletal diagrams. Despite a few errors here and there, this design choice ultimately wins me over, and earns my Dino Dad Stomp of Approval! You can purchase X-Ray Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Creatures from the Pygmy Giraffe online store, or here on Amazon.