Now here’s something I haven’t covered in a while – a so-so 1980s kids’ book about dinosaurs! And one that rather fails to live up to its title! Amazing World of Dinosaurs, written by Judith Granger and illustrated by Pamela Baldwin Ford, was published back in 1982 (by Troll Associates) but, even for its time, it’s very retrograde. The dinosaurs featured within are very much of the pea-brained, swamp-dwelling variety, and there’s a peculiar emphasis on their low cranial capacity in particular. These plodding dullards, inhabiting often quite drab landscapes, do their very best to appear anything but ‘amazing’. Still, I’m sure there’s someone out there for whom this book inspired a lifelong love of saurians, so let’s dive in.
The cover tells us exactly what to expect, with an upright (although not trail-dragging) tyrannosaur staring blankly and slobbering as if in a trance, although it also appears to be waving hello, which is nice. The background features numerous conical volcanoes belching away, along with a surprising variety of wildlife, including a very Pteranodon-like pterosaur, insects (both crawling and flying), a bird (that we’ll charitably assume isn’t meant to be Archaeopteryx), and a cheeky green fellow popping his head up over a rock, just under the tyrannosaur’s tail. The sparse vegetation consists of cycad-type things and ferns, naturally. Welcome to the trope-heavy Prehistoric Lost World.
Baldwin Ford (sometimes written as Baldwin-Ford) illustrated numerous children’s books, and was (in this case) a jobbing artist rather than any kind of dinosaur specialist. The reconstructions all very clearly take cues from Knight (especially), Zallinger and the like, without necessarily ever being direct copies. The art style employed here is quite interesting – fairly loose and low on fine detail, it’s not the sort of thing you’d find in a children’s book today.
This being a rather old-fashioned book for the time, Granger describes sauropods as spending most of their time in the water, eating plants that grew alongside lakes and rivers. Except, she seems to regard “plant-eating dinosaur” as a fitting synonym for ‘sauropod’, which seems like an over-simplification too far even for a children’s book. Baldwin Ford duly illustrates a rather featureless, generic sauropod lurking in water, although the water isn’t all that deep.
After describing the “walnut-sized brains” of large herbivorous dinosaurs, Granger moves on to theropods, which naturally “also had small brains”. It has shades of the idea of a ‘great chain of being’ (with superior smarty mammals being at the top of some imagined pyramid), which persisted insidiously in books throughout much of the last century. In any case, here’s T. rex, again restored standing upright (and thus seemingly sporting a huge gut) and with a clearly Knight-inspired head. It also appears to be practically plantigrade, which is…interesting. Nice subtle shading, mind.
Although Granger previously described sauropods as being predominantly swamp-bound, Baldwin Ford nevertheless illustrates Brachiosaurus firmly on dry land. Which is definitely a good thing. I do like the unusual perspective here, with the viewer positioned behind the dinosaur, its neck snaking up into the treetops. It effectively emphasises the animal’s verticality, while more ‘conventional’ depictions in the background let us see the form of the whole creature. There’s also an attempt at an unusual perspective with the Stego on the left, although it’s less successful, with the plates positioned in a slightly odd fashion and the forelimbs looking pretty awkward.
Just as the book is effective in portraying the great height of Brachiosaurus, it also manages to make Diplodocus look really lo-o-o-ong by having it luxuriate over two pages – and even then, the animal’s tail is almost completely cut off. It’s a great way of giving an impression of the huge size of these animals. Having said that, I’m not a fan of the ultra-generic Brontosaurus in the background, which is so lacking any of the characteristic features of the genus that it might as well be the old Sinclair oil logo. The oversized plants and flat red colour give it the appearance of a cheap rubber dinosaur stuck in the middle of someone’s succulent collection.
Not all dinosaurs were huge, of course, as the book impresses on us by presenting (what else?) Compsognathus. This is a rather bizarre-looking rendition of the Former World’s Smallest Dinosaur, seemingly lacking distinct shoulders and with its neck forming an awkward right angle. There’s something rather unnatural about it, and I can’t quite decide if it’s comical or a little unsettling. Possibly both. A huge foot, presumably belonging to a sauropod, provides scale. It has one too many claws, but that tended to happen back in the 1980s. They couldn’t just jump on the internet back then, you know…
One of the more handsome animals in this book is this Triceratops, which definitely borrows heavily from Knight, but has an appealingly-drawn and pretty accurate noggin nevertheless. You’ll note that, unlike Knight’s (in his T. rex versus Triceratops piece), this Triceratops has pseudo-cheeks. It does make me wonder if Baldwin Ford essentially grafted the head of a more up-to-date Triceratops onto the body of Knight’s, although she may well have just updated it herself; after all, nothing in here is a straight copy of an earlier work, even if the influences are quite apparent.
Although the Triceratops is less retro than it might have been, these Ankylosaurus emphatically aren’t. They resemble the ‘angry pineapples’ of earlier books, but whereas they tended to have stubby legs, Baldwin Ford gives her ankylosaurs really rather long limbs. The foreground individual looks almost like it could happily walk along bipedally. They also sport spikes on their heads that really look like ears (complete with a dark groove in the centre), and relaxed smiles that are somewhere between smug know-it-all and blissed-out stoner. Maybe they stumbled upon some psychoactive Cretaceous plants and are now feeling the effects. (Coming up in Prehistoric Planet series 2…)
And finally…the dinosaurs went extinct. Was it because adorably cartoonish mammals carried away all their eggs like little postal packages? No, but it’s a very amusing image – one can imagine a succession of mouse-like creatures passing the egg along in a chain. Naturally, the pea-brained theropod over on the right is far too much of a dimwit to do anything about this; maybe it’s been eating some drugged-up ankylosaurs.
Do you remember this book? Was it your introduction to the world of dinosaurs? Have I ruined your childhood? Let me know!