Dinosaur Empire: Earth Before Us Volume 1 by Abby Howard
Dinosaur Empire is a dense, fact-filled graphic exploration of the rise and fall of dinosaurs that conveys a lot of information for readers in the MG and YA range, though it could use a bit more spark in its storytelling.
Ronnie has just failed her test on dinosaurs horribly, though she has a chance to retake it the next day. Resigned to failing it yet again, and wondering “Who needs to learn about dinosaurs anyway,” she tosses her test into a nearby recycling bin. Lucky for her, a neighbor, Miss Lernin, happens to be hanging out inside the bin. Even better, the bin is a time machine and Miss Lernin is a former paleontologist, who after a quick lesson in general evolution theory quickly whisks Ronnie away to the Mesozoic Era to show her firsthand all she needs to know (and more) for tomorrow’s test.
They begin in the late Triassic, then move into the Jurassic and finally the Cretaceous, ending of course with the demise of the dinosaurs. Along the way the reader is treated to a densely thorough description of all sorts of dinosaurs, as well as an introduction to a wide panoply of other creatures of the time: flying reptiles, marine reptiles, mammals, and others. The information is up-to-date and besides descriptions of the animals also includes explanations of convergent evolution; the development and possible purposes of feathers, frills, and crests; the development of plants, and their co-evolution with insects; the use of phylogenetic trees; and so forth.
The explanations are concise and clear, and the diagrams often helpful. The presentation is straightforward and more than a little talky, with the few attempts at humor appreciated but weak. The artwork is solidly adequate I’d say, though without a lot of detail, and I didn’t always have a clear sense of scale (or at least if the scale shown was accurate or not). And the pages felt a bit cluttered; I would have preferred more space given to the illustrations.
There’s no fault to be found at all with the amount or detail or thoroughness of the information, and Dinosaur Empire is certainly a book that young readers will learn a lot from, even if they might be somewhat overwhelmed with the number of creatures, names, etc. Where it falls a little short is in the style and presentation, which may not grab young readers not already largely interested in the topic.