Monday, January 14, 2019

Family Book Review: Ocean Renegades!

Last year I was deeply thrilled to introduce my kids (and myself) to the first book in the Earth Before Us series: Dinosaur Empire! Journey through the Mesozoic Era. As one of my friends said, "It's like The Cartoon History of the Universe, with more science." The protagonist is a schoolkid named Ronnie whose paleontologist neighbor, Miss Lernin, is so eccentric that she can travel back in time through trash bins. Eventually Ronnie is motivated to follow, and Miss Lernin takes her on a grand romp through the Mesozoic.

As readers of Squid Empire know well, despite being famous for its dinosaurs the Mesozoic also played host to a gorgeous profusion of cephalopods. Their ancient forms included shell shapes from thunderstones to ice-cream cones, as well as the first truly shell-less squid and octopuses.

And cartoonist Abby Howard actually did them justice in Dinosaur Empire! Hooray!

So I was pretty excited to kick off my new book acquisition of 2019 with the next title in the series: Ocean Renegades! Journey through the Paleozoic Era. After all, this earlier pre-dinosaur era includes the origin of cephalopods and their millions-of-years-long DOMINATION of global seas. I couldn't wait to see Miss Lernin introduce Ronnie to a Cameroceras.


Like many kids, my six-year-old enjoys characters a few years older than her, so Ronnie's the perfect protagonist. By the time I got settled onto the couch and ready to read, my daughter had already flipped through most of the book looking at pictures. Here's how the reading experience went.

6yo: Can we skip ahead to the forest?

Me: Let's start at the beginning.

6yo: . . . FINE.

Me: [reads while trimming the 3yo's nails]

6yo: [holds the book and turns pages]

Me, reading Ronnie: "I can't even tell which end is the head and which is the tail for most of these."

6yo, ever keen to one-up fictional characters: I can tell.

Me: [finishes nails, takes book, reads to trilobites]

6yo: They look like those things on sidewalks.

Me: Pillbugs?

6yo: No.

Me: I mean, roly-polies?

6yo: Yes.

Me: They do! And some trilobites could even roll up like them! There are fossils--

6yo: Please keep reading.

Me: [keeps reading, gets to molluscs]

6yo: Wait. Octopuses and squid are related to SLUGS AND SNAILS?

Me, feeling like a total failure as a parent: Yes. How have I not covered this? You see--

6yo: Can we skip ahead to the forest now?

Me: . . . fine. [heart breaks as I pass the Ordovician cephalopods, promising I will return after the kids are asleep]

Me: [reads about the forest]

6yo: Yay!

6yo: Now can I see the explosion?

Me: The what now?

6yo: The explosion.

Me: Oh, the Cambrian Explosion! We saw it already. It's a metaphor. Nothing really exploded, it's just that a whole lot of new forms of life showed up at the same time.

6yo: . . . .

Me: [recalls 6yo's love of disaster and mayhem] Shall we look for the end-Permian extinction? There should be lots of volcanoes.

6yo: Yes!

Me: [starts flipping ahead]

6yo: Wait, what's this part?

Me, reading Ronnie: "I have just met the cutest thing."

6yo: But this one is even cuter. [points at Procynosuchus] This is the cutest thing in the world. I want one as a pet.

Me: Yes. They are all very cute.

Me: [reads to end-Permian extinction] Well, I guess it's one small panel of volcanoes. That's all we get.

6yo: [points at amphibian] What's that one thinking?

Me: "Where put eggs?" So sad!

6yo: [cracks up] [repeats "Where put eggs?" for the rest of the evening]


Did you wonder about the 3yo getting his nails trimmed and why he disappeared from the narrative? Here's how that went.

Me: Do you want me to trim your nails while we read or trim them and then read?

3yo: Trim while we read.

Me: [reads while trimming the 3yo's nails]

3yo: [holds up fingers and toes while looking at the pictures]

Me: [finishes trimming nails, takes book and reads]

3yo: [sits in warm lap, looks at colorful pictures, listens to nice voice saying lots of words]

3yo: [falls asleep]

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