Dinosaur Feathers

Even in this era of online connectivity, there’s still much to be gained from local libraries. I’ve discovered a great many books reviewed here on this blog that I might never have come across otherwise, despite my dinosaur obsession. Some of them simply never came up when browsing Amazon or discussing popular books with fellow dinosaur nerds, and that includes today’s title.

Dinosaur Feathers, written and illustrated by Dennis Nolan, takes a poetic look at the origin of birds within the dinosaur family, with lovely illustrations and enjoyable rhymes showing off a wide variety of dinosaurs both prehistoric and modern.

The fact that Nolan managed to rhyme Saurophaganax with anything is almost enough to make me forgive…. whatever is going on with its head. Almost.

While the lovely illustrations certainly draw the eye, Nolan really captured my fancy with his writing. He delivers his story in poetic form, with an entertaining AABCCB rhyming scheme. As with I Am NOT a Dinosaur!, I’m impressed with how many ways the author managed to rhyme with his subjects names, except here even more so. While I Am NOT a Dinosaur! only had to keep finding rhymes for the word “dinosaur”, Nolan truly challenges himself with names like “Saurophaganax” and other similar mouthfuls. I have to applaud him for how surprisingly well it all works together, and makes the book feel that much more flowery and artistic as a result.

From an artistic standpoint, the artwork all looks great. It manages to strike a balance between colorful and eye-catching while avoiding any sense of gaudiness. Unfortunately, while the majority of the illustrations achieve an excellent level of scientific accuracy, many of the theropods could look a lot better. While those on the cover are the most egregious, and many, much better theropods feature in the rest of the book, enough bad ones populate the pages to sour the experience somewhat. In making the connection to birds, you want to portray your subjects as accurately as possible, otherwise it obscures the transition, making it seem much more abrupt (and implausible to science deniers). I find it particularly frustrating since not only do Nolan’s modern birds look absolutely gorgeous, he often illustrates an objectively excellent dinosaur only to have it share the same page with one that feels much more haphazardly thrown together.

Now why couldn’t Nolan have used THESE feathered dinosaurs on the cover? That Therezinosaurus and Pelicanimimus are good enough that I almost didn’t notice their feathers don’t attach to their hands quite right. At least they’re better than the “feather sleeves” on the cover…
Look at these birds! Look at them! Just draw your feathered dinosaurs like… well, THESE feathered dinosaurs, and you’ll be fine! This doesn’t have to be this hard…

While the scraggly feathers on some of the non-avian dinosaurs work against it a bit, Dinosaur Feathers otherwise nearly seamlessly connects dinosaurs to their descendants like few other books I’ve read, whether for adults or children. As the authors of God’s Word or Human Reason? point out in their chapter on bird evolution, the transition between non-avian dinosaurs and their feathery descendants forms such a smooth gradient that the distinction between “bird” and “not bird” has become almost entirely arbitrary. To its credit, Dinosaur Feathers makes no equivocation about this. The lines “Who know why / They had to die” immediately precedes those on the next page, “Except a few / Whose feathers grew / And grew, and grew, and grew”, with no distinction made between those that died and those that survived, firmly nesting birds (pun intended) solidly within their saurian heritage.

I’m honestly angsting somewhat about giving this one my Stomp of Approval. I’m sure I’ve awarded the honor to lesser books than this before, but ironically it is of such quality that the author should clearly have known better with some of his illustrations, so I’m tempted to be harsher…

Well, in any case, I absolutely, enthusiastically recommend the book either way. The charming prose and non-chalant, almost incidental identification of birds makes this a book worthy of celebration. I absolutely recommend it for anyone’s collection, particularly paleoartists looking for a bit of poetic inspiration. In fact, with that, I think I’ve just convinced myself. I think this book deserves the Dino Dad Stomp of Approval despite it flaws. It just works too well to snub. Find yourself a copy if you can! I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.


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