Carrying on from last time! The woes of 2021 drove me to the occasional book shopping spree, and as a result I’ve got at least another year’s worth of VDA books on my shelf. If I recall, this book was a fortunate find on Dutch web shopping giant Bol punt com. I was unfamiliar to it but it turns out that a lot of you grew up with this one, so I hope you enjoy part two of this trip down memory lane through the eyes of a newcomer.
Oh, and speaking of alphabet books: David and Jennie Orr’s Mammoth is Mopey will be getting a second edition soon! Hooray!
Moving right along!
As I said, author Jerry Pallotta sometimes foregoes saying something specific about the animal at hand and instead drip-feeds bits of general dinosaur knowledge if there’s an animal he doesn’t have much to say about. Here’s Questrosaurus, the animal that doesn’t even exist. Google it and you get this book. Now let’s not go accusing Pallotta of making stuff up. I’m sure it’s a misreading of Quaesitosaurus (the animal Barlowe and Dodson used in their Alphabet of Dinosaurs, because what the heck else starts with Q?) He uses it to explain the concept of animal colour. Here, the dinosaur appears artfully in black and white, but turn the page, and…
…boom! Fabulous hot pink and blue stripes! It’s good to see a flamboyant sauropod from the 90s, since it was all grey elephant skin at the time. It’s the kind of thing we never would have seen but for the specific format of this book, and that’s always valuable. This is what I mean when I say restrictions breed creativity! Ralph Masiello’s work is simple and childlike, which isn’t always a bad thing. This sauropod is shaped weird, though. Why is it making a 2 with its neck? It’s an alphabet book, not a numbers book!
Background volcanoes, take a shot! The text on this page makes the inclusion of a pterosaur almost a joke. Buh-what? (record scratching noise) This is no dinosaur, how did this one get here? Let’s find a dinosaur instead! But I rather like Masiello’s illustration here, it’s a pleasingly natural one rather than the horrible hellbeast you’d often see Rhamphorhynchus portrayed as. It’s got a nice, subtle-by-Masiello-standards colour palate and very elegant feet.
Riojasaurus is also here. The illustration is again quite nice. I like how Masiello breaks up the otherwise even colours with stripes or multi-coloured spots, like here. He also does those skin folds, right at the point where the countershaded colours meet. The base of the limbs has a certain Michelin man vibe. At this point, Pallotta has pretty much given up on writing down accurate knowledge about dinosaurs and rambles about modern vegetables instead. No doubt, you’re supposed to read it to your kid (or, better still, your nephew or niece) in such a way so as one might expect to get an enthusiastic “ewwwwwl” reaction. What a troll.
T is for… Torosaurus! Yes, indeed. No Sexy Rexy or even Triceratops in this book! Torosaurus is an underappreciated dinosaur, often overshadowed by Triceratops (except in WWD) but very cool looking in its own right. The sweeping frill is probably exaggerated a bit here but especially the one on the left looks really nice. I dig the really massive beak.
“Ultrasaurus” is another misread or dubious name that made its way onto these pages. I like how Masiello made it too big to fit on the page. I also like how Pallotta is challenging the young reader to be a palaeontologist themselves and find an even bigger dinosaur. We’ve yet to have someone on the podcast cite this as a big instigating inspiration to take up palaeontology, but who knows if they’re out there?
Ah yes. Unfeathered dromaeosaurs from the nineties. Masiello’s Velociraptor looks appropriately of its time, with very exaggerated features like the extremely narrow head and bendy feet. I love that it has green stripes; surprisingly common in 90s dromaeosaur art. What it’s eating looks more like a baby Triceratops than the usual Protoceratops, although it’s properly blue, as is mandated by his lordship Consigneur Sibbick.
Wuerhosaurus is round. I like the classic flat-plated Wuerhosaurus look, even though this shape of the plates seen here is probably a taphonomic artifact and the animal would have looked a lot more like Stegosaurus. Pallotta, bless him, doesn’t once bring up the walnut, but he does completely jump the gun when it comes to dinosaur lifespans. I guess we can forgive him for that; before we started properly researching it it was probably quite reasonable to assume that dinosaurs had very long lifespans. Again, Pallotta writes in a way to provoke and immediate response from the child being read to. Cheesy though it looks on the page, it’s quite clever actually. It provides something recognizable to latch on to.
Moving to the very bum end of the alphabet we run into some uncommon letters, so interestingly rare dinosaurs. It’s quite obvious that, running out of tropes, Pallotta and Masiello had to get creative at this point and put a dinosaur in some unexpected circumstances. WWD made us all slightly more aware that dinosaurs in the cold can be a thing, but it was quite rare to see snowy dinosaurs in the 90s. Yet, as Pallotta points out, it must have happened! Here’s some pretty good informed speculation for a children’s book. I haven’t got much to say about this Xiaosaurus otherwise.
Another rare appearance from a big theropod in this book. Yangchuanosaurus makes the third Chinese dinosaur in a row. I’ve actually run into Yangchuanosaurus a fair bit in my 90s dinosaur books, it seems to have been more common in books then than it is now. Again, I feel that theropods aren’t Masiello’s strong suit. I feel there might be better ways to represent them in a simplified cartoon style. This one has a pretty expressionless face and a weird bulb on its nose, and the Michelin Man features around its shoulders are very exaggerated. I don’t like the ear.
The book ends with this tasteful goodbye, and with another challenge to the young reader. Get out there and become a palaeontologist! Find dinosaurs of your own! I do love the “you could totally become anything you want” attitude that Pallotta imprints on his readers. I like how the bones are all scattered around and crumpled up; far more realistic than those completely articulated skeletons that other books (and certain movies) show you.
And that’s the Dinosaur Alphabet Book! Jerry Pallotta and Ralph Masiello are still out there, making kid’s books like this. It’s charming, and it shows off just why alphabet books, by their nature, go some places that standard dinosaur books don’t. I understand why many of you have warm memories of this one. And if you don’t: seek it out if you can! Or, you know, get Mammoth is Mopey instead.