11 February 2019
When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange, and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Before Dinosaurs, by Hannah Bonner
It has been a while since I’ve reviewed any kids’ books here, but this one was so good that I just have to tell you about it. My son is now 6 and a half years old, and he’s interested in all sorts of natural history topics. Given that I’m a geologist, he’s probably more Earth-science-focused than the average kid, but my wife is a biologist, so he’s got plenty of interest in that too. He’s been very interested in bones and skeletons for a long time, and so when you put all of that together, you find a boy who’s going to be very predisposed to paleontology. He and I had an enjoyable day of middle-Paleozoic fossil hunting the other day, finding trilobites and other treasures. A subsequent visit to the library had us grabbing all sorts of books that might be relevant, and among the haul was When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange, and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Before Dinosaurs (2003), by Hannah Bonner. Though the title is perhaps a bit long, the book is a perfect encapsulation of what we know about the Carboniferous and Permian, presented in elegant cartoons that really capture the organisms they describe. The prose is pitched at just the right level, and the jokes are witty and fun. Most importantly, the science appears to be entirely correct. This is so rare in my experience – many of the other “science for kids” books we read in my house have issues of emphasis or language that make it clear the authors aren’t practitioners of science themselves. But Hannah Bonner is the real deal – someone who’s clearly passionate about details (like taxonomy, anatomy, scientific nomenclature), respectful of the reader’s background enthusiasm and attention, cognizant of keeping her young readers aware of the big picture, and having fun the whole time. I’m really glad we stumbled onto this one, and you can bet your britches we’ll be seeking out others in this series, published by National Geographic.
Super highly recommended. Top notch!