This Chicken is a T-REX!

Here’s one I’ve been meaning to get to for a while! This Chicken is a T-Rex! bills itself as “The Great Big Book of Animal Evolution”, and compares various related prehistoric and modern animals to each other through the paleoart of Román García Mora.

I enjoy looking at this book, however, I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t quite live up to its own premise. To start with, only two pages actually do much to demonstrate evolution in a particularly clear manner. Page 9 includes diagrams depicting the 5 primary stages of feather evolution, as well as the progression in hand morphology from Velociraptor, to Archaeopteryx, to a pigeon. Page 13 meanwhile details the evolution of the horse’s hoof from multi-toed ancestors.

Overall it feels more like an exercise in superficial comparative anatomy more so than an actual lesson in evolutionary history. I’m tempted to give the book a pass as it is, but I worry that it might imply to readers a more direct relationship between the featured animals than is necessarily the case, especially when the book’s own title plays into the surprisingly common misconception that chickens somehow directly evolved from Tyrannosaurus itself.

I do like this spread of weird Australian megafauna, most of which aren’t generally talked about. However, it does also happen to stray the farthest from the book’s supposed theme than any other page in the book.

If it feels like I’m coming down a little hard on this book, that’s why. I enjoy collections of cool prehistoric critters as much as the next paleonerd, even more so when they are arranged according to some theme like taxonomic families, time periods, etc. However, calling the somewhat haphazard collections of animals in this book a study of “evolution” leaves too much unexplained for my comfort, especially when just a few slight changes to the text could have helped clarify matters to the readers.

I love that hilariously shampoo-commercial-looking wooly mammoth; it even has a fan blowing its hair just like in a real photoshoot!

I feel like This Chicken is a T-Rex! tries to do more or less the same thing as When the Whales Walked, but comparing the two side by side, “WtWW” manages hit much closer to the mark. While WtWW occasionally strays towards the realm of “Hey, look at this collection of random weirdos!” as well, it generally does a better job of depicting general trends in evolution, even on the occasions that it uses species that may or may not have a direct ancestor-descendant relationship with each other.

There’s a peculiar irony in printing the words “Modern sharks are not very different that those that live millions of years ago” on the page right next to the strangest feature of one of the strangest sharks (Helicoprion) to have ever lived.

Ultimately, the main reason to get this book is for the paleoart. I like Román García Mora’s art, and I would enjoy seeing him gain wider exposure in the paleoart community. It’s just unfortunate that the information in the book is somewhat limited in its utility. If you are more interested in emphasizing educational content over artwork, I think I would have to recommend When the Whales Walked instead. I could however still see This Chicken is a T-Rex! being useful to an educator who knew enough to use it as a visual supplement to their own custom presentation, so don’t let me discourage you from getting it if you’re on the fence about it! If you have primed kids with better books first, you could perhaps even use this one to test their knowledge by making an activity out of trying to find ways to improve it! (This all might be moot anyway, as it appears This Chicken is a T-Rex may or may not be out of print already. Good luck finding a copy if you want one!)

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