________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 9 . . . . January 5, 2001

cover Dinosaurs to Dodos: An Encyclopedia of Extinct Animals.

Don Lessem. Illustrated by Jan Sovak.
New York, NY: Scholastic Reference (Distributed in Canada by Scholastic Canada), 1999.
112 pp., cloth, $23.99.
ISBN 0-590-31684-2.

Subject Headings:
Prehistoric animals.
Extinct animals.
Extinction (Biology).

Grades 4 and up / Ages 9 and up.

Review by Gail Hamilton.

**** /4

Its name was inspired by a word for a fantasy daydream. But for scientists, figuring out what this animal looked like has proven a nightmare. When its remains were discovered at the Burgess Shale quarry in Canada early in this century, it appeared to be a worm with bristles. Later a scientist thought it was a tube-shaped animal standing on seven pairs of stilts with tentacles on its back--and gave it the name Hallucigenia.

      But recently, other scientists have found well-preserved relatives of Hallucigenia in China. These animals don't have stilt legs. What the scientist who named it thought were legs were spines along its back. The parts he thought were tentacles were fleshy legs. But which is the back and which is the front of Hallucigenia is still a puzzle!

      Imagine millipedes as long as a person and one foot wide, a pterosaur with a 40-foot wingspan and a hairy spider that measured eight feet across. For prehistoric animal buffs, this book is a virtual who's who of extinct animals--the good, the bad and the ugly. From the Precambrian Era, 4.6 billion years ago, to the present day, countless species have disappeared from the earth forever. Lessem, the founder of the Dinosaur Society and an adviser on the set of Jurassic Park, explains how and why this mass extinction occurred. The book is divided into 12 chapters (a brief summary of each is included in the table of contents). Chapters are colour-coded by era for purposes of organization and understanding. At the beginning of each section, on the bottom of the page, there is a brown time line with the period highlighted in a different colour. Paragraph headings and small fact boxes are printed in green, adding visual interest. Besides the expository text, there is a gallery of each period, featuring 10 or so animals. The animal's name (complete with pronunciation), the reason for its moniker, the time of its existence, its size and the location of its fossils are listed, along with a few interesting facts. Coloured drawings are also provided.

      Chock-full of information, the text is written in fairly simple language (considering the subject) that is easy for readers to comprehend. Not only does the author talk about the evolution of animals and the period in which they lived, but he also gives insights into how scientists determine the age and identity of a fossil and dispels some earlier myths about prehistoric life and the extinction of dinosaurs. He suggests that about 12,000 years ago, many giant animals were wiped out in just a few hundred years. This was likely due to the weapons of "human predators" for which the animals were unprepared and the spread of diseases brought by man to the New World. At present, Lessem believes, the world is in the midst of a "giant extinction event," with animals disappearing at 100 to 1000 times nature's usual rate, especially in the tropical rain forest. Humans are coming to the rescue, and, in fact, have saved several animals on the brink of extinction.

      The illustrations are nothing short of fabulous. Jan Sovak is well-known for his rendering of prehistoric life. His subjects are drawn as authentically as possible and are shown in misty, murky habitats that are, at once, eerie and timeless, lending them an other-worldly quality. A glossary, an index and a list of resources (books, CD-ROMs, fossil casts, paleontological expeditions, videos and websites) are included. Fascinating and stimulating reading.

Highly Recommended.

Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364