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I am a big fan of 'paper engineer' Robert Sabuda. Here he has teamed up with fellow artist, Matthew Reinhart, to investigate some of the fascinating creatures that ruled our oceans millions of years ago. From ancient sharks to prehistoric crocodiles and giant molluscs, this book provides a wealth of factual information illustrated by eye-catching paper statues, which bring these astonishing creatures to life at a turn of the page.
I bought this book for my youngest daughter when she was about 10 years old and was interested in natural history. She already had Robert Sabuda's pop-up book of dinosaurs, which she loved, so I was sure she would appreciate something similar. She was getting interested in sharks at the time and, like many children, was definitely intrigued by scary creatures in general. I wanted something that was more than just a picture book, however, and I liked the way that the book provided lots of fascinating facts. However, I did come to feel that the book wasn't the most practical to read. Lovely though the pop ups are, I think they do get in the way a bit and distract from the text somewhat. When a child is curious about something, the easier it is to access the information the better. Having to open up flaps and negotiate pop up statues can be frustrating and make it less easy to concentrate on the quite complex information that is being presented. Sometimes there is so much on the page that it gets a bit overwhelming! I think my daughter did find it hard to relax when she was looking at this book because she was always conscious of damaging it due to the fragile nature of many of the pop-ups. Although my daughter has been very careful with this book, some of the pop-ups have become bent out of shape. I think the pictures of sea lizards with long, thin necks are particularly susceptible to damage. Nothing has actually been torn, but some pages have started to look a bit ropy as the years have passed by.
This criticism aside, my daughter was still very fond of this book and you can't deny that it is visually stunning. There is a large pop-up on each 2-page spread. These include a skeleton of a kronosaurus, a sea reptile that was bigger than a T Rex and a particularly menacing-looking sarcosuchus (flesh crocodile) which had over 100 teeth, some the size of kitchen knives. The detail in the pop-up is superb and helps you to take in the bodily characteristics of the creature. As you open the book and see the pop-up sarcosuchus spring to life, you can imagine it leaping out of the water to catch a dinosaur, snapping its jaws and baring its sharp teeth. In addition to the main pop-ups, there are mini books within the main book, which contain additional smaller pop-up surprises. It reminds me a little of going to an aquarium and not quite knowing what is going to be in the tank round the next corner! We see a pop up of the skull of a prehistoric fish called a dunkleosteus, which shows the sharp bony plates it had instead of teeth. If you open and close the page you can see how the plates sheared against each other in a scissors-like motion. (You can even put your little finger into its mouth if you dare!) Equally fascinating to my daughter was a pop up of a tooth from a monster shark called a megalodon, which became extinct 2 million years ago. The tooth is placed next to that of a modern great white and it is quite disturbing to see just how much bigger the megalodon's tooth was!
The pop-up illustrations also introduce us to creatures such as the archelon, a turtle that was as big as a van and 3 times as heavy, showing us its flippers, which are like wings, and its shell made of skin-covered ribs. We even meet a prehistoric penguin and can see its big webbed feet, its pointy beak and teeth. It is great to feel that you are getting up close to creatures that have long been extinct. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that they were real creatures, not just mythical monsters from storybooks.
This book will teach your child a lot, providing they don't get too distracted by the pop-ups and actually read the information contained in the mini books and behind the flaps. The author explains how life probably started in the sea and how 550 million years ago at the start of the Paleozoic era invertebrates could be found in the murky depths, but sharks and other fish eventually became the dominant predators. It is indeed astonishing to realise sharks have been around for so long! The book then takes us through the Meozoic era (when relatives of dinosaurs ruled the sea) and the Cenozoic era (when mammals began to dominate.) All this may sound a bit advanced for a child, but it is explained quite clearly in bite-sized chunks and the illustrations do stop it being too 'heavy'. The author also explains how volcanic eruptions and ice ages wiped out many of the ancient creatures, pondering the question of whether any of these prehistoric creatures have survived and could they be out there somewhere in the vast ocean?
This is certainly an interesting read and my daughter found it intriguing to compare some of the modern day marine life to their prehistoric ancestors. For instance, she learned about the first whales ever to exist, around 50 million years ago, which apparently resembled furry crocodiles! I think it is awe-inspiring for children to realise just how many millions of years there has been life on earth and about the life that existed long before humans appeared on the scene. It is a great way of getting a perspective on things and realising that, for all our arrogance, humans are really just a small part of a very big picture.
One thing I appreciate about the writing style is that to assist us with the somewhat complicated names of the ancient creatures, we are also given the phonetic spelling. For instance, megalodon (MEG-uh-luh-Don). I think that is helpful as it can be very discouraging for children to stumble over unfamiliar words. All in all, I would recommend this for children aged about 10 and upwards, although it does require careful handling. If a child is seriously interested in the subject, I think a conventional book would be easier to work from. However, the pop-up element does make this book fun and it certainly sparks the imagination. By its very nature, the subject matter is a bit scary and I wouldn't recommend it for a child who is prone to nightmares (even I don't feel that comfortable reading about a sea scorpion that grew bigger than an adult human!) but for children who like that sort of thing, there is plenty of opportunity for jaw-dropping moments as you take in the facts and the illustrations. The book is currently available new from sellers Amazon for £10.13 plus post and packaging.
My six year old has dreams of becoming a paleontologist someday. Of course children's future career choices change with time, but at the moment, he finds dinosaurs fascinating. This book is not about dinosaurs, as strictly speaking, only land animals can be classed as dinosaurs. But it does cover the same time period and as strange and fascinating as dinosaurs themselves might be, their sea going cousins are even stranger. I found the vast majority of creatures in this book completely unfamiliar, and was very thankful for the pronunciation guides as I would have had no idea how to pronounce Liopleurodon or Crassyigyrinus. The latter in fact was one of our favourite creatures. It is pictured as a large tadpole type creature with large sharp teeth. Unfortunately, the book did not have a great deal of detail on this beast so we forced to turn to Google once again to discover it's size (2 metres).
This book begins with the Paleozoic Era, starting off with invertebrates, many of which I could never have imagined, such as 2 metre long marine scorpions. The book includes amphibians, although these would be exclusively freshwater. Molluscs, fish, reptiles, early birds and even the first marine mammals in the Mesozoic Era are included. Again some of the creatures sound as if they are the product of an overly fertile imagination. My sons love penguins as well so we were happy to see the inclusion of hesperornis, meant to be a prehistoric penguin, although with its pointed beak full of teeth it bares little resemblance to Pingu. Of course sharks are included, but they only cover a small section of this book. By the title one might have expected much more. Helicoprion forced us to turn to Google yet again as my son was convinced the artist had made this one up. The oceanic reptiles made up the largest section of the book and with good reason. There are so mane fascinating creatures. My boys especially loved the large pop up skeleton of a Kronosaurus.
If you should read Amazon's description of this book, you may find yourself put off by the fact that this book only contains 12 pages. With a price tag of £11.69, I'm afraid I would have passed this book over myself. But what amazon does not tell you is that in addition to one incredible pop out, each page also contains smaller pages which open out to reveal far more pop outs and information. I can only describe these smaller pages as mini books in their own right. Having actually seen this book before purchase, I would have to agree it was well worth the recommended retail price.
I got quite a bargain on this myself. I picked it up at a boot sale and the woman told me £1. Her 14 year old son looked stricken, saying at least £2 as it had been his favourite ever book, and clearly he was a bit hesitant to let it go. I quickly forked over the £2 , as after having taken a look at I could see I was getting it for steal, and said I was well pleased to get it at that price. had he said £10 I'd have paid as the book was like new. The young man then proceeded to tell me how wonderful the book was and why it should be taken good care of. I was impressed with a book that inspired such devotion in a boy, and of course assured him it would be well prized in our house.
My six year old was absolutely delighted by this book and spent hours looking through it. Even my youngest, aged 2 at the time loves it, although it is kept on a shelf out of his reach and he can only use it with supervision. While these pop ups appear relatively sturdy and very well made, I have found any pop up books can be easily damaged by very young children. In particular, if you fail to close the mini books on each page, then the main page will not close correctly and this could cause damage to the large pop up on each two page spread.
The reading level of this book is very advanced, I would recommend this book for children of at least 8 and quite possibly 10+ if they are to read it on their own. Even with an adult reading it, the subject matter is really to advanced for a child under age 5. With younger children I would just tell them a bit about creature and allow them to enjoy the pop ups with supervision. As mentioned though, the boy who was selling this at 14 still obviously liked this book a great deal. As an adult I would happily read this, even if I did not have children. It just has so much new and fascinating information. My overall opinion of this book is that it is absolutely brilliant and I hope to be able to afford to buy the other two books in this series at some point.