by Kurt Cyrus
A couple of documentary-style shows - viz., National Geographic: Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure and BBC's Before the Dinosaurs: Walking with Monsters got us interested in creatures of the prehistoric waters of our world.
And, Turtle: The Incredible Journey helped make the connection between archelon and today's leatherback sea turtles.
So, archelon, plesiosaurus and mosasaur were easily the three top creatures that impressed the young aspiring-paleobiologist and the resident wannabe-paleontologist.
After a quick intro to dinosaurs via a few children's Dinosaur picture books, the kids got seriously interested in these pre-historic creatures. No more cute dinos in jammies and tutus talking adorably and teaching a lesson of some sort.
And so when I came across The Voyage of Turtle Rex at the library, I was impressed with not just the language and illustrations but the fact that we are transported in time while not deviating from factual details, allowing us to be in the midst of these giants.
There is no discounting the appeal of rhyme in children's books - especially non-fiction picture books - and the appeal of a young protagonist who must brave all odds to survive by just doing what (s)he needs to do - is programmed to do.
The book opens with a leathery shell of a turtle egg tearing and a tiny hatchling scrambling on its flippers to get to the sea and start its life's journey. We immediately start rooting for this vulnerable little being. It must cleverly dodge large stomping feet and chomping jaws, wait for the cover of darkness to slip into the relative safety of the vast ocean. And once in the ocean, it must dodge big teeth and even bigger appetites, lay low and get bigger.
Time, like a turtle, passed silently by,
stirring the sea, swirling the sky.
The hatchling who hid in the seaweed was gone...
grown to a two-ton archelon.
She glided past plesiosaurs, calm as you please.
She swam with sharks under rolling seas.
She crossed paths with mososaur, massive and dark:
muncher of archelon, gulper of shark.
Of course, she makes it, our little protagonist. The story goes a full circle when at the end, the helpless hatchling we saw at the shore in the beginning returns to the same shore to lay her very own eggs.
And then we are reminded that
Gone is that sea and the creatures it knew.
Archelon. Mosasaur. Pterosaur, too.
Gone is the plesiosaur's clam-cracking smile...
But we are left with a hopeful note about the circle of life and evolution:
And somewhere a sea turtle bolts from the shore,
scraping a trail to the sea once more.
The illustrations are stunning, with the relative sizes shown to impress and instruct us on the prehistoric life forms. The details of the turtle's shell, the vastness of the blue-green waters, the depiction of movement in the sea... all provide this surreal feeling of being there in that era.
All in all, a surprising find that satisfied our curiosity and thirst for prehistoric animals while providing a wonderful reading experience.
[Aside: Tadpole Rex also by the author.]
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[image source: http://www.kurtcyrus.com/voyageofturtlere.html]