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. Volume VIII Number 5 . . . . November 2, 2001
What do you get when you combine a paleontologist, a palynologist, and an illustrator with degrees in fine arts and zoology? In these two books, the third and fourth, respectively, of the "A Moment in Time series," such a collaboration results in an image and text experience reminiscent of Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom" footage. A standard preface to each book explains that the series incorporates "scientific facts known about specific prehistoric animals" into fictional stories. These fictions anthropomorphize the animals, "bringing the facts to life" in a very personal way.
A Moment in Time with Sinosauropteryx and A Moment in Time with Centrosaurus attempt to recreate the day-to-day lives of two dinosaurs: Layah, a keenly observant young sinosauropteryx, is a chicken-sized dinosaur with feathers living some 140 million years in the past in the region that is now Liaoning, northeastern China. Twister, on the other hand, is a young centrosaur with an asymmetrically twisted neck shield who makes his home 75 million years ago in what has become present-day Alberta. Whereas Layah leads a relatively solitary existence, Twister travels in the company of four or five other young males. Both plots begin shortly after the main characters reach adolescence, and they reach new levels of maturity as each undergoes a demanding physical journey that requires him or her to brave a natural disaster (a volcanic eruption in Layah's case, a flood in Twister's) and assume responsibility for another member of their species. Of the two characters, Twister's seems the more credible, most probably because the authors model certain of his features and habits upon their knowledge of modern herding animals, such as rhinoceroses, bison, cattle, and caribou to name a few. By contrast, there is no modern animal analogous to the feathered, lizard-like Layah, and so the reader has more difficulty believing that she is a "real" animal.
Appropriately enough for books that trace life cycles, headings in the texts (numbered in Sinosauropteryx, but not in Centrosaurus) begin segments of rising and falling action that demarcate stages, or the passage of time, in the animals' progression towards adulthood. These headings provide a more continuous alternative to traditional chapter divisions. Further to physical description, two components of the books challenge the "no nonsense, no frills" efficiency of the sans-serif font. First, the smooth, glossy pages are delightful to touch. Concurrently, one's eye is entertained over and above the color photographs of husband and wife team Philip Currie and Eva Koppelhus, by Jan Sovak's rich full-page color illustrations that comprise approximately one-quarter of an entire book. The predominant palette includes greens, reds, browns, and yellows - bold, aggressive, confrontational colors, which Sovak uses in conjunction with the contrast of shadow and light, muted and sharp edges, to portray movement or convey anticipated movement. More often than not, a light yellow in the centre of the page highlights the protagonist, distancing him or her from the edges of the pictures, dark with lush foliage, where, given the third-person narration, the reader/viewer supposedly resides. A word of caution: Sovak's artwork is not for the faint-hearted, and one may want to steer young children away from the pictures of massive jaws and teeth that snap smaller creatures in half, sharp claws that reach out to pierce their prey; and volcanic eruptions that set trees ablaze in a great conflagration.
Additional aids to each book include an appendix detailing the scientific excavation of fossils, a "Further Readings" list, and a glossary where readers can look up the boldface terms contained in the text. The "A Moment in Time" series should prove entertaining and educational for readers of diverse ages and nationalities, but A Moment in Time with Centrosaurus may be of particular interest to Canadians because of the many fine centrosaurus fossils uncovered in Alberta bonebeds. Other titles in the series are: A Moment in Time with Troodon, A Moment in Time with Albertosaurus, and A Moment in Time with Tylosaurus.
Julie Chychota is relieved that her closest encounter with a Daspletosaurus - a close relative of Tyrannosaurus rex - lasted only "a moment in time."
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.