Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Behold the Brontosaurus!" Let's Read Old Kid's Books That Involve Dinosaurs!

I went to the Library the other day on a mission. It did not end well. It went something like this:

TRISH: "I notice you have a few
World and Owl back-issues. Do you happen to have any Ranger Rick back-issues?"
LIBRARIAN: (Out loud) "No we don't save
Ranger Ricks." (With a heavily implied) "Why do you want to read some kiddie magazine about animals, weirdo? As you can see by the look in my eyes, I am judging you! JUUUUUUUUDGE!!!"
TRISH:


So it doesn't look like I'll ever be able to follow-up on
this old post (unless I get
really lucky somewhere else; but I have no idea where else I could look). I sadly wandered around the rest of the children's library -- and found myself face-to-face with their Dinosaur section.
It will come as a surprise to nobody that I used to haunt this section of the library. I was very happy to see that I did *not* recognize most of the titles. I did, however, find one old nonfiction book and one old fiction book I remembered from childhood. And so, in lieu of "The Most Haunting 'Adventures of Ranger Rick'" (which I could probably do from memory anyway, but dammit, I want to be able to show you the illustrations) or something, here's a nice lengthy post about the strange world of 1980's dinosaur books.

 

The earliest publishing date in my copy of Dr. Robert T. Bakker's The Dinosaur Heresies (where's your copy?) is 1986. This is important. One may even go so far as to say that it is wikkid important. Paleontology was experiencing a sea change, and dinosaur books for kids were caught right in the middle of it. Up until the very early 1990's, most publishers realized they could no longer get away with recycling information about prehistoric animals from the 1960's (I wish I was kidding). That shows you just how long it takes popular science to stumble along in the wake of -uh- unpopular science as it marches on.
 
This little book is fairly typical:




Wow.
That title. Wow.




Anyway, this is where the illustration of, uh, Brontosaurus up above came from. (Open letter to any Paleontologist reading this: If you have the good luck to discover a new genre of sauropod,
please take one for the team and name it Brontosaurus. Because this confusion has been going on for the better part of
one hundred years and it is getting ridiculous.) Ignoring the name issue and some anatomical weirdness, this illustration isn't so bad. At least they are not up to their crotches in a swamp.
This next picture is probably the most entertaining illustration in the book. Check out those Deinonychus:





What you're looking at here is the standard for "really accurate" paleoart in the 1980's. It does look a little strange now, but I don't think a modern take on this same scene would be all that different. The 'raptors wouldn't be nudists for one thing.

Now as for the fiction dinosaur kids book I found (illustrations by Susanna Natti):





Oh good Lord, the nostalgia buzz.
I received this book as a young child because of one of those heartwarmingly (or not) misguided family member decisions. One of my aunts (I think?) caught wind that I liked dinosaurs, and picked up the first two kids books she saw with the word "Dinosaur" on the title. (If you ever wondered how "Goodtimes" video stays in business, there's your answer.)
So that's the reason why I owned this completely random entry in the
Cam Jansen mystery series. I haven't re-read it yet, but I remember there's nothing interesting going on in the illustrations...



Yeah. Guess who the villain is!
The plot involves some crooks who manage to steal a Ceolophysis tail bone(!?), hoping to sell it for a lot of money. The one other thing I remember is that Cam's friend-who-is-a-boy rides a bike with a broken kick-stand, which ends up factoring into the climax.
Harry Potter, this ain't. Still, a nerdy girl protagonist (Cam remembers everything she reads) is always good to see.
(Incidentally, having read the book again, it's astonishing how many plot points I remembered... close enough. Not correctly but close enough. For example, it's Cam's bike that's broken.)
The other book I got from this aunt (maybe) was In the Dinosaur's Paw by Patricia Reilly Giff. I couldn't even find a picture of this on Amazon. I only remember this stupid little book for two reasons. It was the first time I ever ran into a work of fiction with a "Bait and Switch" title. It's also the first work of fiction I ever read with a cop-out ending.
The plot: There is no dinosaur at all in the book. That's all you need to know. (Just a head's up,
this movie does not involve dinosaurs either.)
Seriously, the plot involves a kid who finds a ruler with the initials "T.R." written on it. He naturally assumes that the ruler belongs to a
Tyrannosaurus rex. (I don't remember how old this kid was that he would make this intellectual leap. If he was supposed to be over five then... eek.) At some point, one of the characters who gets in on the mystery draws a Tyrannosaur holding a ruler. Finally, in an ending that rivals the end of "Vanilla Sky" in it's "Oh come ON!?!"-ness, the owner of the ruler shows up and turns out to be a girl named Trudy Rabbalabba or something. Exciting.
There was another book I looked for in the library because it was, for years and years and years, the only nonfiction dinosaur book I owned. Thankfully, while researching this post, I think I found it. Used copies were going for *a penny* on Amazon (well, $4.00 with shipping.) I figured if it did turn out to be my childhood book, it'd be worth four bucks. Because holy crap, I can not wait to make fun of it.

For the sake of suspense (and also allowing for the possibility that this is an entirely different book), I won't tell you the title of the book in question. Instead, here's our

----

Sketch of the Day!

In other current events:

"Fun in the Backyard!" - Episode 42

6 comments:

Albertonykus said...

It sure sucks that your local library doesn't save Ranger Ricks. Blah.

I know that there are actually a few Ranger Rick storybooks, (in the original style, if I'm not mistaken) but they seem pretty rare. I found one many years ago when I entered the terms Ranger Rick into a library search out of curiosity. As I remember it, it was about caribou, but I can't remember much else.

Zachary said...

If I recall correctly (and I do), there was a fairly awesome Ranger Rick's Dinosaurs book that was illustrated by Mark Hallet, who also illustrate the excellent Zoobooks dinosaurs issue. I have a great love for those old kiddie dinosaur books. Do you remember the series where ever book was simply named "(insert dinosaur name here") and it told a story about a day in the life of that dinosaur? Awesome books with sometimes questionable art.

Trish said...

Ah, I didn't know those were both by Hallet! Man, Zoobooks had come gorgeous illustrations. I especially liked how they'd do anatomical studies -- that's not something you usually see covered by kids books.

Those "A Day in the Life of, like, a Rutiodon or Something" books are apparently called the Dinosaur Library series, after a quick Amazon search. Those things were crazy.

JerkyD said...

"LIBRARIAN: (Out loud) "No we don't save Ranger Ricks." (Implied) "Why do you want to read some kiddie magazine about animals, weirdo? As you can see by the look in my eyes, I am judging you! JUUUUUUUUDGE!!!""

When the librarian said that, was he/she yelling at you (or raising his/her voice)? I ask b/c, for some reason (probably b/c of all the exclamation points) I imagined him/her doing so. Anyway, I know what you mean. If you've ever been to Barnes & Noble, you know that most (if not all) of their dino books are in the Kids department. As a result, I always get at least 1 weird/judemental look when I check out their dino books.

"So it doesn't look like I'll ever be able to follow-up on this old post (unless I get really lucky somewhere else; but I have no idea where else I could look)."

If you want, you can borrow my copy of the August 1983 issue for your follow-up.

Trish said...

"When the librarian said that, was he/she yelling at you (or raising his/her voice)? I ask b/c, for some reason (probably b/c of all the exclamation points) I imagined him/her doing so."

She... didn't actually say that, that's just what I read off the look on her face.

"If you want, you can borrow my copy of the August 1983 issue for your follow-up."

That's okay. I don't have much nostalgia for that era, more for the later Alton Langford era.

JerkyD said...

^^ "She... didn't actually say that, that's just what I read off the look on her face."

I was referring more so to the "Out loud" part of your quote.