Today, a special treat. Dr. Adam S. Smith brings us a review of a new children's book about paleontology. Dr. Smith is a paleontologist and curator at the Nottingham Natural History Museum at Wollaton Hall. As an academic, his primary interest is plesiosaurs, a fact well known to visitors of his website The Plesiosaur Directory. He's published several research papers and even has a few new taxa to his credit. Of course, Dr. Smith also runs The Dinosaur Toy Blog and Forum, hopefully well known to our readers as both Natee and Marc contribute there.
* * *
Dig Those Dinosaurs (2013) by Lori Haskins Houran (Illustrated by Francisca Marquez) is possibly one of a kind: a young children’s book (ages 4-7) that tells the story of a dinosaur skeleton from excavation to display in the museum. Intended to be read aloud, or possibly sung, this is the perfect bedtime story for dinosaur-loving toddlers, or for the palaeontologist bent on indoctrinating their offspring into a museum career. I was delighted to receive a review copy so here I am with my first ever contribution to LITC with a review of this charming book.
The story begins in the field, where a palaeontologist and his crew have begun to excavate a dinosaur skeleton. They dig, dig, dig those dinosaur bones. Thrice. Then they dig the bones a bit more to reveal an almost complete Triceratops skeleton. The skull is complete but the postcranium is disarticulated. All the tools of the trade are strewn across the dig site: chisels, shovels, hammers, brushes, buckets, cameras, geological map. Everyone has remembered their sun hat apart from the team leader who’s setting a terrible example. The whole team is so young I can’t help but wonder where the supervisor is - I suppose all these whippersnappers look old to the eyes of a four-year-old.
Next we’re shown how staggeringly big, big, big those dinosaur bones are. Thrice, and then a fourth time for good measure. The lead palaeontologist makes a “the fish I caught was this big” gesture as the bones are smothered in toilet roll and plaster jackets, crated up, and eventually winched onto the back of a truck to be transported back to the museum.
Back at the lab and the lead palaeontologist has some jig, jig, jigsaw dinosaurs on his hands. It is wonderful to see all the elements neatly labelled up while he ponders over the identity of a small vertebra. Jigsaw complete, it’s a Triceratops. Joy!
Now it’s time to mount those dinosaur bones for an upcoming dinosaur exhibition. They rig, rig, rig those dinosaur bones. Thrice, and a fourth time for good measure. A juvenile Triceratops is mounted alongside the adult. A contractor is brought in to paint the backdrops. The lead palaeontologists gets in trouble for breaking health and safety protocol. There’s a tussle over the orientation of ceratopsian forelimbs. I’m making up some of the details here.
In the final chapter, the exhibition opens to the public. A strident little girl in a dinosaur shirt and rather fine dino-hat leads the way, while the palaeontological team stand back and admire their handy work. The little girl in the dino-hat stands awestruck, a little boy in a purple top can barely control his excitement, the palaeontologists’ job is done! Well, presumably now they have to write a paper on it.
The last pages provide some details that expand on key aspects of the story. What tools were used at the dig site, what problems does one encounter when mounting dinosaurs. That sort of thing. An excellent addition to the book.
Each double-page spread is lavishly illustrated with all sorts of nice touches and additions, and Marquez’s simple clean style helps to set the tone of the story. Having been involved in dinosaur excavations and exhibitions myself, I can vouch for the authenticity of the scenes; it is clear the illustrator has done her homework. Credit here may be in part due to Carl Mehling (American Museum of Natural History) who is thanked in the acknowledgements.
In summary, I dig Dig Those Dinosaurs. Thrice. And a fourth time for good measure.
* * *
Thanks to Dr. Smith for coming over to LITC to share this review. You can look forward to another review from him soon. In the meantime, be sure to send him some traffic to The Plesiosaur Directory and The Dinosaur Toy Blog and Forum.