Grade 3-6--Bonner takes a lighthearted approach to a fascinating topic. The Carboniferous and Permian periods spanned 100 million years or so just before the better-known Mesozoic Era. The author describes many of the unusual plant and animal species from those times in a lively, conversational style. Cartoon illustrations decorate every page. Some of them are strictly informational, but most contain elements of humor as well. The facts and the fun work well together, and it's always clear which is which. In one three-panel strip, for example, two scientists offer legitimate theories regarding possible uses of a shark's (Akmonistion) spiny "turret," while a chef wishes that he could have used that unusual appendage as a cheese grater. Weather reports by well-dressed reptile ancestors, want ads for bug-eating amniotes, and pictures with word balloons are among the other comic features. The more straightforward drawings of the unusual creatures are clear and eye-catching, though not all include estimated size. A useful two-page illustrated time line gives a nice overview. Most of the species details are basic, with more emphasis on how life in general evolved during this time period. Readers also see how climate, geology, and other animals effected development. Most dinosaur books include just a page or two of pre-Triassic information, so this title offers valuable subject coverage in an appealing package.--Steven Engelfried, Beaverton City Library, OR
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*Starred Review* Gr. 2-5. The Carboniferous and Permian eras that ended the Paleozoic period (250 million years ago) are presented with verve and humor that don't shortchange the young natural historian's quest for good explanations of the earth's distant past. In spite of the book's subtitle, there's plenty of text. Cartoons are lightly sprinkled throughout an otherwise more traditionally illustrated narrative, but the formats are blended well to provide appropriately factual and hyperbolic information. Descriptions of evolving animal life, climate changes, continental drift, and the formation of elements such as carbon as a natural part of the vegetative life cycle unfold coherently. The use of age-appropriate appendixes (a chart designed to help children keep the vertebrates straight) and familiar reference points (a "seven-foot basketball player" standing next to a very, very tall synchysidendron tree) make this an exemplary curriculum support resource, but kids who dig dinosaurs will read the book purely for pleasure. Let's hope this author-illustrator will decide to present more history for young readers. Francisca Goldsmith
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