Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Life (by Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan)

Just in time for the holidays, I am delighted to present Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Life (DK, 2021)… no, not that Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Life (DK 2021), I’m talking about the one by Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan! I’m not sure why DK decided to publish two books with the same name in the same year, but while the other one looks fine, I definitely wanted this one first! If you’ve read some of the other books I’ve reviewed, then you may recognize Dr. Chinsamy-Turan from her brief bios in The Dinosaur Expert and She Found Fossils. She is a vertebrate paleontologist with an expertise in the microstructure of fossil teeth, and has written extensively on African paleontology. Here she presents a broader overview of prehistoric life aimed at children, though I daresay anyone would be happy to own this book.

The first image I’m sharing from this book appears, funnily enough, at the back of the book. However, since this “visual guide” acts more or less as a pictorial table of contents, I thought it might make for a nice preview of multiple entries by sharing it here.

The illustrations by Angela Rizza and Daniel Long really make this book stand out. In fact, its gorgeous green and gold patterned cover caught my eye first, and convinced me I had to have it before I even saw anything else of it! I am happy to say that this instance of judging a book by its cover panned out, as the interior certainly justifies owning it for more than simply its nice appearance on the shelf.

Each geologic Era is introduced with a page like this, showing each of its periods and some of its more well-known animals. Pay attention to what path the animals are taking to read the periods in their proper order!

The book consists of creature profiles, divided into sections based on the three most well known eras of earth’s history: the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic. Each entry consists of two pages showcasing the creature in question. On one page, our author tells us about the life and times of the featured creature, with a stylized and often quite vibrantly colored portrait to accompany the text. On the opposing page, readers are treated to a full page photograph of the original fossils of the organism, helping readers to connect the idea of these plants and animals to real physical artifacts. Alongside plenty of the popular favorites, Chinsamy-Turan includes some admirably obscure species, at least for a kids book. I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever seen the fossil tree Archaeopteris (not to be confused with the “first bird”, Archaeopteryx!) in When Fish Got Feet, Bugs Were Big, and Dinos Dawned, for example. I think even Abby Howard missed that one.

Archaeopteris, getting photobombed by a smaller, more festive cousin.

These profiles are occasionally interspersed with double page inserts explaining major concepts or taxonomic groups relevant to the time period. The Paleozoic and Cenozoic sections mostly focus on major events like the Cambrian Explosion or the most recent Ice Ages, while the Mesozoic describes each of the major dinosaur families, such as theropods, sauropods, and ornithopods.

Marginocephalians, AKA ceratopsians + pachycephalosaurs. These models are alright, especially as far as DK 3D renders go, but they do clash with the aesthetic.

My one criticism of this book concerns the illustrations on these pages, however, which inexplicably switch from traditional art to 3D images. While they actually look pretty decent and don’t clash with the rest of the book quite as badly as some of the past 3D images DK Publishing once insisted on might have, they still seem kind of out of place with the overall aesthetic.

This tree of life, however, appears in the back of the book, and reuses the more traditional art from some of the creature profiles. EDIT: I missed it at first, but it was pointed out to me that “Fish” should not form a single, separate line like that. At the very least, it should have been drawn in such a way as to show lobe-finned fish as closer to “Amphibians”.

If I had to characterize this with a silly stereotpye, I would call this the definitive incarnation of all those dinosaur visual encyclopedias one can find in doctor’s offices across the globe, many of them titled with some variant of “Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Life” as well! I mean that in the best possible way though; this book deserves not only to replace each of those doctor’s office books, but earns its place on any dinosaur enthusiast’s shelf, even if they happen to be outside the target age and simply want something pretty to look at. I’m pleased to give Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Life (again, the one presented here; though I’m sure the other is nice too!) my Dino Dad Stomp of Approval! Get it for yourself, or for your dinosaur-obsessed loved ones this holiday season!

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