Monday, October 10, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs: A Pop-Up Book

Can a dinosaur book ever just be...adorable? Not in a twee, cute-and-cuddly-characters sort of way, but simply through being wonderfully designed and a clear labour of love? Well, I think that, at the very least, this one can.

Firstly, just look at the word 'DINOSAURS' on the cover - it's so evocative of a certain era in dinosaur pop culture (and reminds me of the poster for When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth every time I look at it). The book dates from 1977, and as such features dinosaurs that are decidedly old-fashioned (although still beautifully painted by Dot and Sy Barlowe). Open up the cover, and you're greeted with this:

A pop-up Tyrannosaurus skeleton! And, given the difficulties of creating such a complex object in pop-up paper form, not a bad one. You can certainly see that the artist did their research - check out the carefully detailed Centrosaurus in the background, too. I suspect that that one (if not everything here) was based on a museum mount.

On the above page, pulling the tab on the left causes a baby Protoceratops (I presume) to break out of its egg. Alright, so this is adorable in a slightly twee, cutesy way. But I love it - it's a fantastic idea! It's also a wonderful way of teaching very young children about dinosaur life.

When I first looked through this book, what immediately struck me was the scarcity of theropods. Normally the stars of the show ('cos kids love scary predators with big teeth), they have here been sidelined in favour of their herbivorous bretheren, and it's actually quite refreshing - it lends the book a genteel, relaxed air, which is aided by the high quality of the illustrations. The fact that none of the animals are depicted tearing each other limb-from-limb probably also helps. There are a fair number of clich├ęs (check out the volcanoes in the above picture) but the book finds a number of interesting, inventive ways to introduce kids to new dinosaurs. For example, flipping over the Monoclonius above reveals the closely-related Styracosaurus (below). It's a good way of making clear the similarities between them, without having to spell it out in the text.

It's unfortunate that a rather lizardy-headed Diplodocus is anachronistically on the same spread as the centrosaurs, but there we go. To emphasise its length, the whole animal must be folded out from the page. It may be rather oddly shaped, but at least it's firmly on dry land.

...Which is more than can be said for this Brachiosaurus, bobbing about in the river. Pulling the tab leads to the animal rising up to the surface. Swamp-dwelling sauropods stuck around a long time after their sell-by date. Still, having the tab action reveal more of the animal is a decent trick, and keeps things interesting. I also like the use of additional wildlife to set the scene (notice the small turtle on the rock).

One of the most impressive pop-up pieces in the book is this Stegosaurus (below). Every plate along the animal's back has been individually inserted, which prevents it from looking a little too two-dimensional, and once more it's beautifully painted (if old-fashioned as ever).

The book finishes back where it began - in the museum. This has got to be my favourite pop-up in the book - a 3D museum scene with skeletons, museum workers, curious guests and even a tiny sign reading "BRONTOSAURUS". In addition to showing off the sheer size of the dinosaurs when compared with people, the 'Bronto' skeleton is, again, remarkably well drawn.

In a word - charming. Many thanks to Niroot for letting me borrow it.


  1. Holy dang.

    I owned this book as a wee one, and have tried tracking it down to no avail. It was directly responsible for making ceratopsians--and particularly styracosauruses--my favorite dinos.

    Thank you for the post!

  2. I had this too! Is this all the pages? I'm loving the nostalgia.

    Needless to say, I totally wrecked it.

  3. I had this one, too! Wonder what happened to it.

  4. Woot, I'm glad to see several people have fond memories of this book too.

    @Scott: It does have rather disappointingly few pages. I wish there were more. Mine is mostly still in fair shape, thankfully, though as you see on the Monoclonius & Styracosaurus page, the pull-tab for flipping up the panel is missing, though I hope to restore it one day.

    An aside, Marc, are you feeling quite alright? (Serious question)

  5. @Scott: There are a couple of pages missing from my roundup - one featuring Procompsognathus, and another featuring (adult) Protoceratops.

    @Niroot: Yeah, I'm fine. Why do you ask? (Not to sound impertinent or anything.)

  6. These are pretty cute, and in some, I am reminded of ol' Peter Zallinger.* Especially the blue-orange diplo and the brachiosaur.


  7. Marc: I dunno, you just seemed... not quite yourself with this post somehow. Perhaps it's just me. ;)

  8. Niroot: Hmmm. I'm a little intrigued. I'll e-mail you about it, though.

  9. Used to have this book as a kid. I miss it. :(

  10. I had this as well! I am nostalgia-ing so hard right now!

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  13. Hi! Permission to use your photos of the book on my blog? I'm doing a '30 day book challenge' on my blog (in Finnish) and I remember this book being my favorite picture book from childhood (challenge day 21). I still have the book somewhere, in my 5-yr-old son's bookshelf probably, but it's not in very good shape any more, and since I managed to Google myself to your blog where you already have great photos of this wonderful book, I was wondering if I may link some of them in my entry too. No worries if you think it's not ok, I won't do it then.


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