History Uncovered: Dinosaurs

Well, Coronavirus didn’t go away by Easter, and we’re still stuck under shelter in place orders, but that also means I have less a temptation to buy or check out new books from the library, so I can finally get around to books that keep falling by the wayside! I actually scanned some pages from History Uncovered: Dinosaurs several months ago, but then somehow never followed through with writing an actual review. So now here we are!

Permo-Triassic
A Permo-Triassic spread, giving Dimetrodon an excuse to appear in what is otherwise a book almost entirely about dinosaurs.

Written by Dennis Schatz, History Uncovered: Dinosaurs runs through a chronological overview of the Mesozoic Era, with a brief look at the Permian Period thrown in at the beginning for some sweet Dimetrodon action.

Each page consists of one or several scenes illustrated by Ashley McPhee, with the text of the book relegated entirely to little insets on each page. McPhee seems heavily inspired by Franco Tempesta’s paleoart, to the point where I thought he was the illustrator at first glance (see my review of Don Lessem’s Ultimate Dinopedia for examples of Tempesta’s work).

One of the key features of this book consists of circular holes or windows in each page which allow for previews of upcoming (and previous) pages. This makes for a fun dynamic as it keeps readers anticipating what’s coming next, and makes for a unique way to convey extra info about certain creatures. (I felt like this general idea was better utilized in Jason Chin’s Grand Canyon, however, where they felt more like literal windows to the past. In this book, the gimmick kinda seems thrown in just because.)

jurassic period
I’ve juxtaposed these two pages on the Jurassic Period for easier comparison between the two. You can easily see here how the windows to the previous and next pages work.

Whether or not McPhee took inspiration from Tempesta or came up with this aesthetic on her own, it’s not a bad one to run with. The dinosaurs all seem reasonably accurate while looking dynamic and eye-catching. Even the feathered dinosaurs hold up, with the ever-tricky wing feathers attached mostly properly (they could be a little better in a few cases, but I’ve certainly seen worse).

One of the only major errors I noticed came in the form of an anachronistic Brachiosaurus placed in the Cretaceous Period rather than the Jurassic. Perhaps they meant Sauroposeidon, which has traditionally been regarded as a brachiosaur, though some think it may be a titanosaur instead.

cretaceous period 1
The first of two Cretaceous pages, featuring the anachronistic Brachiosaurus.

There’s also a couple of pages with basic information about paleontological concepts, such as geologic eras, what qualifies as a dinosaur, and how paleontologists go about their work. While many of books of this level approach the latter subject in broad strokes, I think this book in particular really missed a chance to illustrate the process with a specific discovery. Readers can see scientists assembling what is clearly the Ibrahim interpretation of Spinosaurus, the story of which has had several twists and turns that would have made perfect object lessons in communicating core concepts behind the excavation, interpretation, and mounting of skeletons.

piecing it together

History Uncovered: Dinosaurs is sure to be a hit with young dinosaur lovers, and the window feature makes for a unique form of engagement with the book, and the illustrations are accurate and enjoyable to look at. It may be a little basic for a certain level of young dinosaur nerd (as it likely would have been for me when I was the target age), but I recommend it nonetheless!

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