Every once in a while I come across a killer concept of a book that I just have to feature on this blog, and Prehistoric Pets is just such a book. Written by paleontologist Dean Lomax and illustrated by Mike Love, this lovely pop-up book takes a look at the fossil relatives of some of our most beloved animal companions.
Each page features one of seven popular animal companions, each given a pet name in the text subtly connecting the audience more closely with them, the way one would with a real pet animal. These are juxtaposed with a fold-out flap which hides a pop-up version of an ancient member of their family. Lomax emphasizes that these are not necessarily to be considered the ancestors of the modern creatures, but rather relatives of varying degrees of closeness to each other. Numerous inset boxes on both the pop-up page and the reverse side of the flap detail various aspects of not only the featured prehistoric beasts, but also many other members of their respective families, both living and extinct. Ernest the Guinea Pig probably gets the closest relative of any of them, while Bubbles the Goldfish gets the hilariously broad category of “Ray-Finned Fishes” in order to show off the admittedly awesome Leedsichthys, a Jurassic filter feeder as large as many modern whales.
While the book doesn’t go into detail about evolutionary processes or taxonomic definitions, it nevertheless provides a bit of a base for branching out into those topics. Lomax explicitly connects the book’s stars in evolutionary relationships to each other, explaining that their environments have caused them to develop the adaptations that make them distinct from each other. Likewise, while we only get brief introductions to the relevant family groups for each pair of animals, the inclusion of short profiles on various other members of each family helps encourage readers to think about how exactly they all relate to each other, which is the basis from which taxonomy springs.
My boys absolutely love this book. They have been reading it so much that they have started referring to each page by the animal’s pet name in addition to or even instead of their species (“Now let’s read about Jasper the Corn Snake!”)! They also love dramatically throwing open the flap and shouting the name of the creature as it pops up. It’s particularly adorable to hear my four year old shout “TITANOBOA” in the deepest voice he can muster. I must admit however that the attempt to pronounce Josephoartigasia has defeated even myself; I simply let them get away with calling it a “giant Capybara”.
I think I can safely call Prehistoric Pets a big success in our household. The bright, inviting illustrations, fascinating creatures, and close-to-home immediacy of its subject make it a very engaging book for any child. The mechanics of the pop-ups feel slightly better thought out than those in Dino World, though not so elaborate that I’m afraid to let the boys actually read it, as with the Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs & Sharks books. Entertaining, engaging, and informative, I give Prehistoric Pets my Dino Dad Stomp of Approval!
If you want to know, the giant capybara (actually more related to the pacarana) is pronounced Ho-say-foe-ar-tig-a-se-ah.
Also, one idea I’ve had for a high concept paleo-book you’d like would be about dinosaurs named after mythological figures and gods. I could fill it with central asian taxa alone: Citipati, after the tibetan twin lord of cemeteries, Haya griva after Vishnu’s horse-headed avatar, and Erlikosaurus after a demon king.