The Voyage of Turtle Rex

Today’s review cover another prehistoric rhyming book by Kurt Cyrus, The Voyage of Turtle Rex, a sequel of sorts to Tadpole Rex. Playing on the same theme of examining the life cycle of one of the “background players” of the Mesozoic, Turtle Rex has all the charm of its predecessor while significantly improving on the formula as well.

The story follows the life of a female Archelon, from her hatching day under the shadow of a Tyrannosaurus, who unintentionally scares off the usual shoreline predators that would normally eat most baby sea turtles before they could reach the sea. Making its way past marine predators, she finds a patch of floating Sargassum-like seaweed in which to hide as she grows to her monumental adult size. As a member of the largest species of sea turtle to ever roam the ocean, our Archelon protagonist eventually grows large enough that she has no predators she need fear. She then returns to the shores of her birth to mate and start the cycle over again.

I’m particularly pleased to see the vicious Xiphachtinus appear! It is famous for often being found with giant meals stuck in their throats or bellies, biting off so much more than they could chew that it killed them!

While similar largely identical to Tadpole Rex in terms of its formula, Turtle Rex improves upon it by increasing its educational value. This time, not only does the book identify our protagonist as a specific prehistoric species, we see many more of the other creatures that inhabit their shared ecosystems. Mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, pterosaurs, and even the vicious, large, predatory fish Xiphactinus all appear over the course of the book, grounding the story firmly in the setting of the Western Interior Seaway that split Cretaceous North America in two. I appreciated the depiction of plesiosaurs engaging in raking the seafloor mud in search of burrowing creatures, a behavior that seems entirely reasonable, but rarely depicted in paleoart. The suggestion that they were searching specifically for clams to crack open seems unlikely, though less well-armored bottom feeders would certainly find themselves on the menu.

Kurt Cyrus’s rhymes are quite enjoyable to read, especially aloud. The writing is complemented by Cyrus’s usual illustrations, which are almost as pleasant to look at as his writng is to read. As one would hope, our hero looks great in all her illustrations, though with Archelon this is less of a guarantee than one might expect. Many non-specialist artists tend to just draw any old generic turtle shape that comes to their mind when they try to illustrate this taxon, with some straight up copying modern Leatherback Sea Turtles, or (more often) drawing some high-domed, hard-shelled tortoise-looking creature. Cyrus has clearly done his homework, however, and the protagonist of his book comports well to the the actual skeleton of Archelon. The other animals in the book look generally good as well, though the mosasaur’s scales could perhaps be a little less gnarly, and some small shoreline Troodon are depicted as scaly, when they should sport a coat of feathers instead.

The book ends with a wistful musing on the extinction of the Archelon and its Cretaceous comrades, ending on a positive note about all the living turtles that still survive today.

Gone is that sea and the creatures it knew

Archelon, Mosasaur, Pterosaur too.

Gone is the Plesiosaur’s clam-cracking smile…

But full-body helmets are still in style.

And somewhere a sea turtle bolts from the shore

Scraping a trail to the sea once more

My boys and I love this book, and it has formed a reference point for their understanding of fossil sea creatures. I often find myself referring to this book when reading other books, or even when visiting the museum. The Perot, the closest museum to me, has a skeleton of Protostega, one of Archelon‘s closest relatives, and second place in Mesozoic sea turtle size. After reading this book, my kids developed a new appreciation for this display, and were excited to “see Turtle Rex in real life”. Having improved on my mild criticism of its predecessor, I am more than pleased to give The Voyage of Turtle Rex my Dino Dad Stomp of Approval, and I highly recommend it to everyone, especially families with children fascinated by prehistoric sea life. If Turtle Rex has you or your little one wanting more in this same vein, I recommend The Plesiosaur’s Neck, another rhyming story about a prehistoric sea reptile.

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