Into The Ordovician

Of all the time periods in the Paleozoic Era, I’d wager that the Ordovician probably receives the least love in pop-culture. I thought it might tie with the subsequent Silurian Period in obscurity, but then remembered at least that period has a Doctor Who species somewhat anachronistically named for it (as well as a whole song by Brighter Lights, Thicker Glasses). Even The Ratfish Wranglers’ song “Ages of Rock” admonishes us “Don’t forget the Ordovician”.

These are probably the happiest looking little jawless fish I’ve ever seen.

Fortunately, New York-based museum, research center, and publisher Paleontological Research Institution (or PRI) addresses that oversight with their latest paleontology book for kids, Into the Ordovician. Written by Andrielle Swaby & Jonathan Hendricks, and illustrated by Alana McGillis (who also illustrated PRI’s well-received Daring to Dig), Into the Ordovician is a kid-friendly overview of this obscure period of Earth’s history. Readers get an introduction to the most significant events and important creatures of this time period, before getting a look into the science behind what we know of this era.

Readers may have heard that the Ordovician-Silurian Extinction Event is one of the traditional “Big Five” mass extinctions, though two more of similar intensity have since been identified (the “Oxygen Catastrophe” of the Precambrian, and the Captian Mass Extinction which ocurred during the Middle Permian.)

Both McGillis’s cartoony illustrations and the overall structure of the book remind me somewhat of Hannah Bonner’s work. As with Bonner’s “When” series, broad scope discussions of general trends during the time period in question are supplemented with closer looks at important animal groups, though with fewer silly asides. (In fact, When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm makes for the perfect sequel, starting as it does with the subsequent Silurian Period. But I’m getting away from the topic at hand.)

The first half of the book consists of illustrated reconstructions of Ordovician creatures and environments, while the second half consists of photographs of the fossils that tell us of this time period. Each clade gets at least a page to itself, while the more charismatic fossils like trilobites and nautiloids get full double-page spreads. I like seeing a children’s book showing off the physical evidence of time long past. It helps make everything seem that much more tangible, especially for the target audience.

Like Daring to Dig, She Found Fossils, and The Dinosaur Expert, Into the Ordovician prominently features several relevant scientists who have followed their passions into the field of paleontology.

The final pages of the book provide readers with some inspiration for further research, introducing several specialists who work with Ordovician fossils, and several places one can go to see such fossils in person. Dr. Melanie Hopkins, Dr. Seth Finnegan, Dr. Alycia L. Stigall, and Dr. Björn Kröger all give brief summaries of their work and what fascinates them about prehistoric life. Readers are also encouraged to visit the Cincinnati Museum Center, the Illinois State Museum, the Sam Noble Museum, and the Redpath Museum at McGill University, as well as Forillon National Park in Quebec, Great Basin National Park in Nevada, Cave of the Mounds in Wisconsin, and Caesar Creek Lake State Park in Ohio.

References like this are incredibly valuable to young readers. I remember having no idea how to turn my passion into something productive when I was younger. I had next to no examples of actual paleontologists who could direct my interests, and I didn’t even know what sorts of museum options I had access to at the time. With real world examples so prominently displayed in the main body of the text rather than in small acknowledgements in the back (or a complete lack of any reference at all!), it immediately grabs the reader’s attention, and provides a strong base from which they can develop their interests for themselves.

I really enjoyed Into the Ordovician. It provides a great overview of its eponymous time period, with enjoyable reconstructions supported with eye-catching fossil evidence. I can’t think of much to criticize about it; if I had to choose something though, I suppose I would have unpacked the final panel of the “Mass Extinction” page a little more, which simply states that not much changed, “Except for us” (speaking for the jawless fish and trilobites). Readers might be interested to know that while both jawless fish and trilobites did survive into the Silurian, in some ways it was the beginning of a decline for both. Jawless fish were quickly outcompeted by more modern fish in the ensuing millenia, and while trilobites quickly recovered in terms of sheer numbers, they never quite regained the same diversity in body shape that they had in the Ordovician. It doesn’t much affect the main impression readers should take away from the Ordovician Extinction, however, and in the context of the whole rest of the book, it’s a pretty minor point to pick out.

Into the Ordovician, along with some of its companion plush toys: the giant trilobite Isotelus, and the nautiloid Orthoceras, released in conjunction with this book!

I highly recommend Into the Ordovician, especially for kids who have progressed beyond the basics of prehistory, or have gotten into fossil collecting for themselves. You can purchase Into the Ordovician at the PRI website, along with an adorable plush toy of the nautiloid Orthoceras that they have released in conjunction with the book’s publication! PRI has a whole collection of Paleozoic Pals for sale, in fact, including trilobites, sea scorpions, and others. (Don’t forget their previous children’s book, Daring to Dig, if you haven’t bought it already! While not a PRI publication, the “recommended for you” bar kept promoting Poke-A-Dot! Dinosaurs A to Z as well, which I recently reviewed, so I thought I’d mention that too.) I’m happy to give Into the Ordovician my Dino Dad Stomp of Approval. Get a copy for yourself today, and maybe some Paleozoic Pals to go along with it!

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