As well as being a curator of Natural Sciences at the Nottingham Natural History Museum, my co-author Adam is a palaeontologist specialising in the anatomy and evolution of plesiosaurs (prehistoric marine reptiles) and runs the web site plesiosauria.com. The Plesiosaur’s Neck is a playful exploration of some of the suggestions palaeontologists have made to explain why a particular group of plesiosaurs – the elasmosaurids – had evolved extremely long necks.
The star of the book is Poppy, an Albertonectes plesiosaur who is based on a fossil found in Alberta, Canada. The fossilised Albertonectes has a seven metre long neck that takes up almost two-thirds of its body length. The neck is made up of 76 bones – more than any other animal ever.
An animal would not have developed such an extraordinary long neck unless it gave them some sort of evolutionary advantage, but the lack of determining evidence has led to a lot of varied and entertaining speculation as to what that advantage might be. Did Poppy use her ridiculously long neck to lunge out of the water and snatch pterosaurs from the air or to delve down into tunnels to gobble up crabs? The book outlines these and other suggestions in a playful rhyming text, with an information box on each spread providing additional detail. And a prehistoric double act, Alfie Ammonite and Bella Belemnite, crack jokes and provide a comical commentary as Poppy demonstrates each hypotheses.
The book is illustrated by Adam Larkum who has made Poppy, Alfie and Bella into very engaging and appealing characters and populated their undersea world with an abundance of other plants and animals from the 75-million-year-old Cretaceous Period that they inhabited.
I sometimes describe the book as “a prehistoric puzzle”, so some readers may be surprised to discover that no answer is provided at the end. Instead we ask readers a question, “What do you think that immense neck was for?”. Dr Adam and I hope that this book will help young readers to understand the scientific method – proposing and evaluating alternative hypotheses – and encourage them to think critically for themselves.
Here are a quotes from two early reviews of the book.
“The many possibilities are entertainingly presented and vividly illustrated, marrying the key facts with rhyming asides to keep children fully engaged.”
CHILDREN’S BOOK OF THE WEEK
James Cann, THE INDEPENDENT
“[A] fun and fact-filled rhyming picture book which blends laughter with fascinating science. … a dream read for fact-guzzling young dinosaur fans.”
Pam Norfolk, LANCASTER GUARDIAN
Here’s a trailer for the book.
You can download activity sheets for the book by clicking on the images below.
And you can order the book from your local bookshop or by using the sales links below.