As I’ve mentioned before, the promise of learning more about dinosaurs is an excellent way to compel young children to learn how to read, and so it’s unsurprising that so many books aimed at beginner readers feature them. Learn About Dinosaurs, published in 1990 by New Seasons as part of their Leap Frog series, is a very typical example. Not terribly remarkable, perhaps, but I’m sure it’ll be sweetly nostalgic for a few of our millennial readers and, hey, those lightly cartoonified dinosaurs are rather sweet.
Learn About Dinosaurs was illustrated by stalwart children’s book illustrator Laura D’Argo, and appears in her portfolio on her website (with the cover looking a little less lurid than I’ve somehow made it). Although cutesified, it’s still instantly clear which beast each piece is meant to depict…for the most part. The cover’s Stegosaurus is very typical in that it’s rather rounded and pudgy, with stumpy limbs and appealingly bright colours. It also bears more than a passing resemblance to a Bernard Robinson piece – a bit of a recurring theme in this book.
The book isn’t in any sort of order, which always strikes me as a bit of a missed opportunity, but then, I’m a bit of a stickler for putting everything in its right place (my dinosaur model collection is arranged by clade, even though doing so can be a pain in the arse). Even sticking them in alphabetical order would add to the educational value of the book, although chronological order would be better, of course. Oh well. As it is, we start with Allosaurus (which does begin with A), although it looks suspiciously like a tyrannosaur. Why, it even has two fingers per hand, which would have really bothered me when I was a kid. That said, I do rather suspect that Allosaurus and Daspletosaurus have switched places, for reasons I’ll get to later…
For now, here’s Brachiosaurus, looking very much like an over-inflated balloon with next-to-useless stumpy little limbs. Although these illustrations are obviously stylised, it’s still a little peculiar that Brachiosaurus isn’t given its long, well, arms and upwardly-sloping back. I have a feeling that it might be down to whatever the source material was. At least it has a cute little smile, and I do really like the simplicity of the backgrounds, which manage to convey quite a lot with minimal detail and shading, providing context without distracting from the dinosaur. They’re also quite varied without resorting to hackneyed Prehistoric Lost World tropes, which is always pleasing to see.
Camarasaurus pops up too, looking similarly grey and a bit rotund, but with slightly more functional-looking legs. The adult appears to be based on an illustration from a set that appeared all over the place in the ’80s and early ’90s, although in this case it comes with a baby that is no doubt supposed to be adorable, except that it has a short neck and nondescript head that’s the stuff of palaeoart nightmares.
Naturally, Tyrannosaurus makes an appearance, in a piece that’s a little more loose-looking than some of the others. The colours instantly reminded me of some of Bernard Robinson’s tyrannosaurs (like these), although this is far from being an obvious copy of his work. The curve of the jaw is a little peculiar, although perhaps intended to give it a little extra expression (along with the brow); I’m more troubled by that left foot. Still, the way the colours blend together on the animal’s body is very appealing, and I do (once again) like the minimal background.
Next up is Maiasaura, which I’ve mostly included because it really does have a highly expressive face. And the predominant expression is weariness. And it’s no wonder – perpetually tending to its rowdy brood when it isn’t fending off nest raiders or having lava bombs rained on its head (my, but those Steve White pieces in Dinosaurs! were memorable), Maiasaura never catches a break. You’d be dead tired too, you know. The stripes on the animal’s flanks are very natty, although one does suspect that D’Argo had to cram the tail in at the last minute, and (even given the nature of the art) that baby sitting in the nest looks proper weird. Still, for Maiasaura‘s gloomy face alone, I really like this one.
And now we finally reach that Daspletosaurus I mentioned earlier. It too only has two fingers on each hand, although in this case that’s quite appropriate, what with the animal being a tyrannosaurid and all. However, this illustration owes a lot to a Bernard Robinson Allosaurus, albeit flipped and given rather appealing jazzy blue stripes. Which is why I suspect that the illustrations were swapped by mistake, even if both creatures do have two-fingered hands. Of course, I could be completely wrong. Moving on…
These Triceratops look rather familiar, too, but I can’t quite place them. The one on the left resembles a Bernard Robinson Triceratops (one that even the original artist reused), but as for the one on the right, I’m not so sure; it could well just be a modified version of the other one. I do like the dirt being kicked up – it’s an unusual little bit of dynamism for this book – and the horns in particular are very nicely done. Some people might take umbrage at a speculative behaviour (tree felling) being presented as fact in the text, but hey, even if it’s an odd thing to mention, it’s entirely plausible. So there.
And finally…it’s Dryosaurus, with a rather pretty sunset background. Its neck might be a little stre-e-e-etched here, but overall, it’s really not that bad. If you, dear reader, can identify the source of inspiration for this one, do let me know, for I am too old and have read far more kids’ dinosaur books than is necessarily healthy for a person, and it’s starting to do…things to my memory. Thanks for reading, and do return to discover what I manage to find on eBay next!