Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Science Comics: Dinosaurs - Fossils and Feathers

Science Comics: Dinosaurs - Fossils and Feathers

MK Reed
Illustrator:  Joe Flood 
Nonfiction graphic novel
For ages 9 and up
First Second, 2016   ISBN: 978-1626721432

All too often we humans think that we know all there is to know on a subject, only to discover that we were wrong. Over the centuries, time and time again ‘sure things’ that we have known about history and science have turned out to be ‘oops, we made a mistake.’

This scenario certainly applies to the study of dinosaurs. In ancient times, we thought that the skeletons of dinosaurs and other extinct animals where the remains of fantastical creatures like cyclops, griffins and dragons. We did not have the knowledge and tools then to understand what we were looking at.

During the Industrial Revolution people began to dig up coal, metal ore and stone; they dug canals, and built structures that required deep foundations. Occasionally during their excavations they found the remains of strange creatures that they did not recognize and could not explain, but there were people who wanted to understand what the creatures were.

One of the people who found many dinosaur fossils was a woman called Mary Anning. She found the remains of a complete skeleton belonging to a creature that had a crocodile like skull, a tail, and fins like a dolphin. The skeleton eventually ended up in the British Museum and it was named Icthyosaurus. An Oxford professor called William Buckland saw the Icythosaur and he got to know Mary Anning. Together they made many discoveries, though Buckland rarely gave Mary the credit she was due for her finds and theories.

Unfortunately this sort of behavior was all too common amongst the men in the scientific community. One man in particular, Richard Owen, ruthlessly stole other people’s ideas and attacked the theories of other scientists. For example, Gideon Mantell, who found the first iguanodon remains, hypothesized that his find walked on its two back feet. Owen insisted that this idea was wrong and when the world saw statues of iguanodons at the Crystal Palace Exhibition, they were portrayed as being lizard-like creatures with a “plodding stance.”

Despite these rather shameful incidents, scientists began to discover that the dinosaurs that they thought were sluggish, slow moving, and slow thinking creatures were actually very different. Inspired by Darwin’s work on evolution, scientists began to look at the fossils in new ways and discovered that while some dinosaurs were indeed quadrupeds, some were bipedal. Some were carnivores and some were vegetarians. Many years later, as they studied the behavior of dinosaurs, scientist came to realize that some dinosaurs clearly demonstrated that they behaved in a way that would have been impossible for an ectothermic (coldblooded) animal, which therefore meant some dinosaurs were endothermic, or warm blooded. Just like us.

In this very special book M.K. Reed’s text and Joe Flood’s wonderful artwork is paired to show young (and not so young) readers how theories about dinosaurs changed over time. The story introduces us to famous people who made remarkable discoveries and who not only changed the way we think about dinosaurs, but who also changed the way in which we study science and learn about the world that we live in.