It’s here! Mammal Takeover!, book 3 in Abby Howard‘s Earth Before Us graphic novel series drops in the next few days. Abby graciously hooked me up with a review copy, so I had the opportunity to take an early look inside. Having already reviewed Dinosaur Empire! and Ocean Renegades!, I’m very pleased to complete the trifecta for my bookshelves.
Mammal Takeover! begins much like the previous two books. We open on a winter morning to find a shivering Ronnie on the snow-covered playground at school, lamenting aloud the lack of cold adaptations in humans, and wondering how we ever survived the Ice Age. Having tunneled nearby in Bugs Bunny fashion, as one does, Ms. Lernin pops out of the snow, eager to answer Ronnie’s questions with another time traveling adventure! Desperate to get out of the cold, Ronnie gladly accepts, and the duo head off for a journey through the Cenozoic Era.
As always, Ronnie and Ms. Lernin discover many fascinating creatures on their trip, shining a spotlight not only on the big Ice Age superstars, but also on the many smaller, stranger, and earlier mammals that lived in the time between the End Cretaceous and the rise of humans. (For a more intimate graphic novel about some of the survivors of the End Cretaceous extinction, check out Mike Keesey’s Paleocene.) As always, Abby Howard does a fantastic job of explaining scientific concepts in an easy-to-understand manner, while also putting everything the reader sees into context, in both time and space.
I found it particularly fun watching the world slowly become more and more recognizable, as the strange prehistoric creatures of the early Cenezoic gradually give way to the more familiar modern animals that share our world with us today. This of course applies to our own lineage as well, as Ronnie and Ms. Lernin encounter increasingly derived apes until the appearance of Homo sapiens. At this point Ms. Lernin stop for an extended look at humanity during the Pleistocene, in which we discover that the human evolutionary tree is far bushier than popularly imagined, with multiple sides branches that either came to a dead end (like Homo naledi) or hybridized with us (like the Neandertals and Denisovans). I particularly appreciated this extended look at our family relationships, as a lot of confusion often results from the simplistic “March of Progress” image many people have in their heads.
The rise of modern humans of course brings us to the enormous impact we’ve had on our world, affecting both our environments and even the global climate. Howard does not sugarcoat the severity of the problem, but manages to walk the fine line of inspiring readers to talk action, even if it largely comes in the form of small differences in daily routine.
All of the Earth Before Us books are whirlwind tours that pack as much as possible into their pages, and Mammal Takeover! takeover is no exception. Even compared to the others books, however, something about in this one felt slightly rushed. I don’t mean in terms of production values; the art and the science are all fantastic as usual. I just couldn’t help feeling like there wasn’t as much “room to breathe”, narrative-wise, as the others. There seemed to be less time spent on individual spotlights, and slightly more sudden scene changes. It’s a small quibble with an otherwise excellent book, but it does make it harder to pick out a favorite moment when the scenes are all packed in tighter together.
That being said, I still thoroughly enjoyed Mammal Takeover! It’s every bit as engaging as its predecessors, and there’s just something so satisfying about completing the trilogy and having it next to Dinosaur Empire! and Ocean Renegades! on my bookshelf. I heartily recommend the entire series to any young reader. Abby Howard has created a wonderful series that serves as an excellent introduction to the wonders of our Earth Before Us. I’m more than pleased to give my Dino Dad Stomp of Approval not only to Mammal Takeover!, but the entire collection as well!