Cartooning Prehistory: When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm by Hannah Bonner
WELCOME TO PENNSYLVANIA!
What? You don't recognize Pennsylvania? That's not surprising. Nowadays the countryside in Pennsylvania is covered in greenery, but 430 million years ago the tallest plants around would have been knee-high to a grasshopper, had there been any grasshoppers. There weren't.
Ah, yes. Things were way different back in the Silurian/Devonian days. National Geographic's author/illustrator Hannah Bonner takes young readers on a whimsical visit in the way-back machine, to a time long before the dinosaurs roamed--when lichens and mosses were the landscape plants du jour and the view was mostly "just rocks, rocks, and more rocks." Tiny mites and millipedes ruled the land, but the shallow warm seas which covered Pennsylvania and most of North American were teeming with a myriad of very different animals and plants. Racine was a reef, and the big predator back then was an ancestor of the scorpion, the six-foot Pterygotus, who ruled the sandy bottom of the sea.
In When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long Before Dinosaurs, author Bonner takes us on a tongue-in-cheek tour of those ancient days as fish slowly got jaws, ocean plants grew cuticles and stomae and spores, and bugs acquired waxy shells and spiracles to survive and breath on land. The reader sees taller plants help create soil and shade on the land to support the worms and bugs that came to enjoy the environment.
And then--break out the champagne, all you worms; it's the Devonian Era, and big changes are in store! The continents are still floating around, sorting themselves out, and fish are still trying out their new teeth and building up their bones, but in this period things are shaping up on that shaky land mass--trees get leaves, and lobed-fin fish (like the recently discovered Tiktaalik) become tetrapods (four-legged animals) when they begin to spend their spring break on the shore.
Bonner's account of all this life is punctuated with rather funny cartoons which fix the details of early life forms in the minds of the readers. Simple, explanatory text and lots of illustrations make the evolutionary changes easy to understand and recall. It's a fun way to walk through ancient times, bolstered by two appendices, the first a pictorial timeline of lifeforms, the second a chart which keeps the vertebrate genealogies straight for the reader. Also offered is a helpful "Where to Learn More" section which points young biologists toward their local libraries (children's and adult sections) and includes seven interesting web sites for further study. A pronunciation guide for scientific terms, a glossary, and a short index round out the back matter of this appealing browsing book for the biologically curious reader.
Can't wait to find out what happens next in this suspenseful saga? See Bonner's When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange, and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life before Dinosaurs. for another skillful blending of fact and funnies appealing to middle readers who dote on dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasties.