It’s a testament to the wealth of options us dinosaur nerds have to choose from these days that even someone like myself who actively seeks out dinosaur books can still discover quality options that have somehow previously slipped my notice. I’m sure I otherwise would have stumbled across Dinosaurs Are Not Extinct long before now otherwise! Despite the fact that I am writing this over half a year from the book’s original publication date, author/illustrator Drew Sheneman was kind enough to send me a copy so I could inform my audience about it as well!
As a young dinosaur lover, I often daydreamed about dinosaurs living among us in the modern world. Dinosaurs Are Not Extinct posits exactly what it says, though that’s not to suggest that some “great white hunter” has discovered the Mokele Mbembe in the Congo. Rather, it demonstrates the seamless connection between our modern birds and their dinosaur ancestors, such that we can indeed consider them true dinosaurs, with no qualifiers truly necessary. Sheneman shows how small, feathered theropods, already looking like what we would consider true birds, survived the End Cretaceous mass extinction to reclaim much of their ancestors’ former glory, and then some. One might consider it a spiritual companion to Dinosaur Feathers in this respect, especially given they both contain significant sections exclusively featuring modern birds. (When Dinosaurs Conquered the Skies does this to a certain extent as well.) I particularly appreciated the pages demonstrating how many of the features we consider uniquely avian originated in creatures we would likely have no trouble identifying as more stereotypical “dinosaurs”.
Sheneman’s career as a political cartoonist makes him well suited to capturing what one might call “faithful caricatures” (a concept I’ve discussed before in reviewing books such as Animals of a Bygone Era & Out of the Blue ), which readers can see best expressed in his double page spread highlighting the diversity of modern birds. Each is imbued with a cartoon personality that feels entirely appropriate to its species. He largely accomplishes this with his dinosaurs as well, each of which possesses just as much personality as his birds (the shaggy T. rex who occasionally pops to comment on things being a favorite of mine). I could still criticize a few designs though, in particular the “wings with hands” trope, a common mistake in illustrations of more bird-like dinosaurs (which I also noted in my other most recent review, covering Zoom: Dinosaur Adventure). As the outermost (or “primary”) feathers of bird wings attach to their hand nubs, any dinosaur that also possessed a more developed wing structure should also have its hands more or less in-line with its feathers, rather than sticking out from them at right angles. In a sense, you could almost say that a cartoon bird that uses its feathers as fingers is technically more anatomically correct than certain dromaeosaur illustrations. On an equally pedantic but more positive note, I realized with nerdy glee that Sheneman included accurate bennetitales (also known as cycadeoids for their misleading resemblace to true cycads), even including the odd flower-like structures that grew directly out of their trunks rather than their branches!
My kids have enjoyed reading this one, and have started proudly exclaiming “Dinosaurs Are Not Extinct!” to anyone who will listen, even to those who… let’s just say “don’t believe” birds evolved from dinosaurs. Reading this one not long after Out of the Blue has made for some good opportunities to start some basic discussions with my kids on comparing different organisms and get them thinking about how to investigate the natural world. My six year old practically insisted I give Dinosaurs Are Not Extinct my Dino Dad Stomp of Approval, which would have convinced me even if I hadn’t already planned on it!