Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Science Of Art

Are there ever too many?  Fans will shout out a resounding, "No!"  Their favorites will be read over and over and over until they have the much-loved look; worn and torn jacket, bent corners on the cover, a wobbly spine and dog-eared pages.  In 2013 three outstanding titles came to my attention; each treating the topic differently.

On August 27, 2013 How Big Were Dinosaurs? (Roaring Brook Press) written and illustrated by Lita Judge was released into the world.  It was followed on October 22, 2013 with The Greatest Dinosaur Ever (Henry Holt and Company) written by Brenda Z. Guiberson with illustrations by Gennady Spirin. In between these two Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 1, 2013) written by Catherine Thimmesh could be found on the shelves.

Dinosaurs thunder across the silver screen at the movies.  They snarl and snap and stare from the pages of many a great book.
Their enormous bones tower majestically in museum halls.

No one has ever seen a dinosaur.  How do we recreate their existence in movies, books and museums?  The science of paleontologists and the artistry of paleoartists work in collaboration to fashion a world where no human footsteps fell.

With the discovery of fossilized dinosaur bones, the process begins.  From these the age of the fossils is determined along with the habitat of the then-living colossal beings.  Every single piece of information from these finds, fossils, plants and rocks, is critical to the creation of the visual presentations.

Readers follow the history of paleoartists starting with Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins.  As more fossils are unearthed, knowledge obtained about evolution and a huge shift in theories about the make-up of dinosaurs is made (evidence supports them as being warm-blooded), their shapes, sizes and outer covering changes. Did you know dinosaurs left pathways of footprints?

Walking side-by-side these dino highways reveal numerous answers to puzzling questions.  Along with these observations, the equipment used by the detectives of prehistory becomes more advanced.  The accuracy of the dinosaur depictions increases.

An entire dinosaur skeleton is rarely found intact making the entire endeavor problematic.  In addition the paleoartists need to consider how muscles might have worked in order to make the likeness more animated, more real.  Did you know dinosaurs had no facial muscles? The placement of spikes and horns, the shape and configuration of scales and feathers...yes feathers; all need to be taken into consideration.

One of the most difficult aspects for paleoartists is the color given to each of these dinosaurs.  It's intriguing to imagine dinosaurs could distinguish color with their vision.  This fact determines, in part, the shades and hues given to the reproductions.

Each of the artists highlighted in this text, John Sibbick, Greg Paul, Mark Hallett, Tyler Keillor, Sylvia Czerkas and Stephen Czerkas, gather pieces of the puzzle before they attempt to picture a dinosaur.  Although the evidence is the same, sometimes their illustrations will differ based upon interpretation.  If those first scientists and artists could see what we are able to see today, they would call it a miracle.  Even though I know how heavily science plays a part, I call it a miracle too.

Author Catherine Thimmesh has written an informative and interesting book about a topic sure to find an audience with dinosaur enthusiasts if not with the general reader.  They will find themselves quickly turning the pages to encounter the next new revelation.  Her technique of combining her research, introduced in conversational discussions of the facts, with actual quotes from the experts make us feel like engaged participants.

Thimmesh builds interest page by page with captivating sentences.  Detailed descriptions reach out and grab readers.  Here are a few samples of her writing from this book.

Because although a fossil is not a time machine, it is a window---cracked open ever so slightly---into the deep past.

But dinosaur science came roaring back in the 1960s, and by 1975 there was a seismic shakeup in how dinosaurs were viewed.

To sum everything up---to visually define that dinosaur---paleoartists often turn to the skull itself...the head of the beast.  And oh, what a crown jewel that head is; such a powerful jaw, such enormous teeth, such fierce eyes.

Filled with sketches, full-color renditions and completed standing skeletons by professionals in the field this title depicts an aspect of dinosaur art most people would not take the time to notice but should.  Each of the illustrations is carefully labeled with the artist's name along with additional information about the subject portrayed.  Placement of text and the visuals within the pages is designed to generate a pleasing flow.

After having read paragraphs repeatedly, I can say, as someone who would not be categorized as a dinosaur fan, Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled written by Catherine Thimmesh is a fantastic piece of nonfiction. Readers will feel the urge to get digging or at the very least to start researching, then sketching.  The opening endpapers highlight the Mesozoic era and the closing endpapers feature three major dinosaur groups.  At the conclusion of the work content is provided about each of the artists.  A selected list of sources, glossary and index is included.

For information about the author and her other titles please follow the link embedded in her name.  Links are also embedded within the other two titles to my earlier reviews.

I am excited to be participating in Alyson Beecher's 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted at her blog Kid Lit Frenzy.  Make sure you stop over there to see all the other nonfiction picture books showcased by other bloggers.


  1. This title looks fantastic. Can imagine how much children would enjoy sharing this story!

    1. I couldn't believe how interesting it really is, Carrie. I learned many new tidbits about dinosaurs as well as this fascinating art bringing them back to life. I think your students might like to hear some if not all of it.

  2. Margie - Thanks for your review. The first time I picked up this book, I think I wasn't super focused and had mixed feelings about the book. I need to check it out again.

    1. You're welcome, Alyson. This is one of those books the more you read, the better it gets. I had no idea so much was involved in creating dinosaur art. I hope you like it the second time around.