Dinosaurs have encouraged a great many kids to improve their reading skills – best way to find out all about ’em, after all – so it’s only natural that books of a saurian bent have appeared in a number of reading schemes through the years. (I’ve certainly covered a few before – just don’t ask me to find them in the haystack.) Speaking of Dinosaurs was first published in 1979 (with this edition arriving in 1983) as part of the Ginn Reading Programme. It’s a Level 9 book, apparently.
Now, most children’s dinosaur books opt for a visually striking, vibrant cover, but Ginn and Company eschew this in favour of an apocalyptic scene of desolation and death, featuring an emaciated Triceratops wheezing its last breath as it collapses amid a sea of sand and bones. Read this, kids, it’ll be fun!
I must thank Agata for drawing my attention to this one – the book’s unusual cover caught her eye at a car boot sale once. She didn’t buy it at the time, but managed to find it online some time later and pointed me to it. So, now I own a copy. Hooray! Unfortunately, the artwork inside this book is nowhere near as intriguing as the rather alarming cover might suggest. Even worse, the artists aren’t credited, with only a list of Level 9 book illustrators provided, as follows:
Willi Baum / Leon Baxter / Don Bolognese / Ed Emberly / Denver Gillen / Tony Heald / David Kelley / David McPhail / Tonia Noell / Jane Teiko Oka / Joan Paley / Arthur and Pauline Perry / Jerry Pinkney / Richard Powers / Ivan Ripley / Caroline Sharpe / Bill Shields / Lesley Smith / Mike Weymouth / Garth Williams / Hans Zander
So, we can be confident that the artwork featured here is by at least one of those people. Yes.
The illustrations largely consist of tiresomely predictable Burian and Zallinger copies, albeit in deliberately unnatural, occasionally rather lurid colours. It’s all very ’70s. If anything, this approach does lend the art a visual appeal that more straightforward Burian-tracing would have lacked; the dinosaurs are plodding, but the colours really pop. The minimal, vibrant backdrops are quite lovely, too, although I have no idea what that insect is supposed to be in the above piece.
The text, incidentally, has also been copied from other books – but actually with the permission of the original copyright holders. In the case of the above spread (and a few others), the text is from Discovering Dinosaurs, a book that I’ve covered before (who’d have guessed?). It’s a shame that none of the illustrations here are a patch on the creepy Oviraptor–thing in that book.
Elsewhere, further Burianesque dinosaurs include a Brachiosaurus complete with water tank. I do really love the way that the stylisation results in a series of blue bands around the Brachiosaurus – it all looks so extremely of its time. Elsewhere, we have Protoceratops, a pterosaur that is presumably a crestless Pterodactylus, and a cute little…theropod?…with tiny arms and hands, and a very thin tail that reminds me of a rat’s. Nifty shading, though, and the yellow outlines around the animals are very striking.
The yellow outlines return in a scene featuring Allosaurus, Brontosaurus and Stegosaurus hanging out around a swamp, looking extremely Zallinger-like. (Zallingerish? Zallingeresque? I can’t remember my own preferred term for it.) While the theropod and sauropod are beautifully painted shades of blue-grey, the Stego stands out in bright yellow. Why draw such attention to Stegosaurus? I’m not sure, but it really works, somehow.
In the above scene, Zallinger and Burian collide – granted, it’s mostly Burian, as the Trachodon, Corythosaurus (wait, didn’t we see that one earlier?) and the body of the Tyrannosaurus are definite Burian copies. However, the tyrannosaur appears to have had a crude rendition of the head from the Age of Reptiles version grafted on. All rather ho-hum predictable in terms of 1970s children’s dinosaur books, but at least we can enjoy the colours. They’re rad, I tell you. Rad.
Happily, matters improve when we reach the ‘Dinosaur Differences’ chapter (adapted from In the Time of the Dinosaurs by William Wise, which, incredibly, I don’t think we’ve covered before. To eBay!). Here, we switch from painted illustrations to model photography. The models used include a Brontosaurus (above) that appears to have been designed to be bendy and poseable. Indeed, it appears in other photos with its neck bent in various different configurations. Is the flat underside of the neck a hint that the artist was looking closely at real brontosaur vertebrae? Probably not, but it’s a fun coincidence in any case.
Naturally, Brontosaurus must take to the water to escape Allosaurus, although the latter doesn’t look like it’d be able to move at any great pace – those legs look awkward. These models are all very charming, even if they’re as badly dated as my haircut.
Stegosaurus joins in the fun too, of course. It doesn’t look too happy about it, though. Perhaps that’s to tie in with the description of it being off-putting to other dinosaurs. It’s a “don’t mess with me” sort of stare. Notably, although this is otherwise a typically old-school reconstruction of the animal (bowed forelimbs and all), its tail doesn’t contact the ground.
The model fun continues into the Cretaceous with Trachodon (i.e. Edmontosaurus). It’s another model that appears to have been designed to be bendable, perhaps even animated in stop-motion. (How wonderful would it be to discover a stop-motion animation featuring these things? I really hope it exists.) As you might have noticed, every dinosaur is depicted as living in an arid environment regardless of where and when it was from. This is something that occurred an awful lot back in the ’60s and ’70s, and I can’t help but feel that certain films shot in Canary Island calderas are at least partly to blame. (It was worth it so that lazy journalists could forever refer to fur bikinis when talking about prehistoric animals, though.)
Not all of the models featured here are entirely original. Lo and behold, our old friends the Aurora model kit Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops show up, the latter immediately recognisable by its inexplicable ferocious fangs. The paint jobs may be fairly naturalistic and subdued here, but Aurora’s angry-looking sculpts are anything but. They’re raring to go, ready for a fight to the death. And sure enough…
Now, the Aurora kits might have been a lot of fun (and rather silly), but they certainly weren’t in scale. This results in Triceratops looking rather diminutive next to the absolutely enormous T. rex model, but that certainly won’t stop the plucky little guy goring the big git in the belly. Wonderful stuff. Although originating in the 1970s, the Aurora kits were reissued countless times over the years, even as recently as 2015 (to cash in on Jurassic World, no doubt). It’s always fun to spot them in media like this – certainly beats cataloguing the never-ending appearances of the Papo T. rex.
And finally…here’s a very strange cartoon that accompanies a poem, When Dinosaurs Were Roaming, abridged from A Dozen Dinosaurs by Richard Armour. Most of the surrounding illustrations are pretty straightforward cartoony dinosaurs, but there’s something very surreal about this T. rex, with its hugely long, ribbon-like tail, arms growing from its neck, and apparent bushy eyebrows. The style really reminds me of certain British kids’ animated cartoons from the ’70s, which probably isn’t a coincidence – I’d be really grateful for any thoughts from our more geriatric British readers on the matter.
Coming up next time: maybe I’ll buy that copy of In the Time of Dinosaurs…