The Tyrannosaur's Feathers

co-written with Dr Adam S. Smith
illustrated by Stieven Van der Poorten

Tyrannosaurus rex may be the king of the dinosaurs, but that doesn’t stop know-it-all Velociraptor from telling him he looks old-fashioned and needs a makeover. So, with an improved posture, some restyled body parts and a coat of shaggy feathers, T. rex gets a new look to match the latest evidence.

The Tyrannosaur’s Feathers takes an amusing and informative look at how new discoveries have transformed our understanding of T. rex’s appearance since this giant prehistoric predator was first unearthed over a century ago.

“It approaches the popular topic of dinosaurs from an unusual angle and successfully mixes fact with genuine humour. The illustrations are really amusing too.”
A BOOK OF THE YEAR 2023
PETERS BOOKS

“An amusing and well-crafted book. … It’s going to be essential reading for young dinosaur fans.”
EVERYTHING DINOSAUR

Read more of these and other reviews

UK Paperback
ISBN-10: 1915235596 • ISBN-13: 9781915235596

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Author's Note

Palaeontologist Adam Smith and I began discussing ideas for a possible follow up to our first book, The Plesiosaur’s Neck, before that book was published.

Although The Plesiosaur’s Neck contains lots of facts about plesiosaurs, it’s also a book about the scientific method, specifically how scientists propose different hypotheses to explain something and then test each hypothesis against the evidence to determine which are most likely to be correct. I thought it would be good to do something similar with the next book, this time focussing on how the discovery of new evidence or the development of new scientific methods could dramatically transform our understanding of a prehistoric animal.

The prehistoric animal that inspired the idea was Tyrannosaurus rex, possibly the most famous dinosaur of all and one that all young dinosaur fans are familiar with. It’s extraordinary how much T. rex’s appearance has changed since I was a child.

An  Imperial Toys T. rex model, first produced in 1985, and a Wild Safari Prehistoric World T. rex model, first produced in 2017.

I’d originally thought there was not enough individual changes in T. rex’s appearance to fill an entire book, so we would have to include some examples of changes in the appearance of other dinosaurs as well. However, when I emailed an outline of the idea to Adam, he emailed me back a few hours later with enough additional changes to T. rex’s appearance to justify making T. rex the focus of the whole book.

When I phoned Adam to discuss the project the next day,  Adam told me that – by remarkable coincidence – he was currently “trying to find a T. rex” to exhibit at the Nottingham Natural History Museum, where he works as a curator. The search was successful and the Titus: T. rex is King exhibition opened at the museum in July 2021. At the same time as Adam and I were working on our picture book, Adam was co-writing the guide book and information labels for the exhibition with T. rex expert Dave Hone, which conveniently ensured that his T. rex knowledge was bang up to date.

Adam and me beside Titus, the T. rex skeleton on display at Nottingham Natural History Museum.

The striking transformation T. rex’s appearance has undergone in the last 120 years reminded me of the transformations featured in TV makeover shows, so the main text in this book is a dialogue between a T. rex and a bossy Velociraptor who gives an old-fashioned looking tyrannosaur a comprehensive makeover. We called the characters T and V for short when we were creating the book. V’s character was inspired by Edna Mode, the short, bossy fashion designer who features in The Incredibles films.

The character of the Velociraptor was inspired by Edna Mode, the fashion designer from The Incredibles.

When we were researching the book, Adam and I spent a lot of time looking at historical examples of paleoart  – artwork that attempts to depict prehistoric life according to scientific evidence. A 2017 article on paleoart in The Atlantic noted that paleoartists “directly shape the way humans imagine the distant past” and highlights that “paleontological accuracy is a moving target, with the posture and life appearance of fossil species constantly reshuffled by new discoveries and scientific arguments.” The Tyrannosaur’s Feathers attempts to illustrate how and why T. rex’s anatomy has been reshuffled since the dinosaur’s discovery at the turn of the last century.

Some of the changes in anatomical detail featured in the book are very subtle and it was decided that it might be better to ask a paleoartist (who are used to working with precise anatomical detail) if they could produce illustrations to suit a picture book format, rather than ask a picture book illustrator to produce precise anatomical detail. 

I have taken more of an interest in paleoartists since I started working with Adam (who is an accomplished amateur paleoartist himself) and had come across the work of Stieven Van der Poorten on Twitter. Stieven’s illustrations of prehistoric creatures are extremely characterful and dynamic and both Adam and I thought his vividly coloured, precisely detailed, comic book style would be a great fit with this book. So we were delighted when Stieven agreed to come on board as illustrator.

This is Stieven’s first picture book and he’s adapted to the format brilliantly under the guidance of Becky Chilcott, who did an excellent job as the book’s designer. Stieven’s T. rex and Velociraptor characters succeed in being wonderfully expressive, without sacrificing too much anatomical accuracy, as this illustration of the transformed T about to turn the tables on the nervous V shows.

The characters consult a weighty text book called DINOSAURS: THE LATEST EVIDENCE throughout the picture book and the final spread of the picture book is a spread from this text book highlighting some additional information about T. rex. It was Adam’s clever idea to make the information boxes on the other spreads (such as the one shown on the spread above) look like scraps of paper that had been torn out of this text book.

Reviews

“The premise of this delightful book, revolves around a know-it-all Velociraptor informing our eponymous hero that he looks old-fashioned and needs a makeover … Illustrated by Stieven Van der Poorten and aimed at young readers from six years and upwards “The Tyrannosaur’s Feathers” explains how new fossils and advances in scientific analysis have transformed our perceptions regarding this famous, apex predator. …This is an amusing and well-crafted book. It explains how our views regarding Tyrannosaurus rex has changed since it was first named and described more than a century ago. It’s going to be essential reading for young dinosaur fans.”
EVERYTHING DINOSAUR

“What does a Tyrannosaurus rex look like? Feathers may not be the first thing in your description of this dinosaur, but paleontologists are continually uncovering new features of these animals that we were previously unaware of. In this humorous, factual and beautifully illustrated book, the authors explain to children how the image of the Tyrannosaur has changed since the latest scientific evidence was published.”
HOW IT WORKS

“I especially enjoyed this title as it approaches the popular topic of dinosaurs from an unusual angle and successfully mixes fact with genuine humour. The illustrations are really amusing too and perfectly complement the flavour of the text. It made me chuckle!”
 A BOOK OF THE YEAR 2023
PETERS BOOKS

“Humour, science and amazing illustrations equate to this for any dino lovers! I fell in love upon my first read and I’m sure that it will enchant you too!”
NON-FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR 2023
Dean Boddington, NO SHELF CONTROL

“This engrossing, non-fiction title beautifully demonstrates the dynamic nature of scientific understanding to young readers as it examines the evidence from recently discovered fossils and explains how this has helped scientists to update their theories about Tyrannosaurus rex. … it never patronises its audience but provides clear, accessible explanations which are vividly illustrated by Stieven Van der Poorten. … The Tyrannosaur’s Feathers is an essential book for introducing science concepts to primary school children.”
Veronica Price, V’S VIEW FROM THE BOOKSHELVES

“[A] fun and fact-filled picture book which blends laughter with fascinating science, and features the wonderfully detailed illustrations of Stieven Van der Poorten. … With its mixture of a playful commentary between the T. rex and a velociraptor and fact-filled information sections exploring the science behind the theories, this is the perfect way to make learning fun.”
Pam Norfolk, LANCASHIRE EVENING POST

A thoroughly enjoyable and informative read. Tyrannosaur and Velociraptor have a cheerful and humorous relationship and together provide the text with a distinct narrative voice. … Smith and Emmett introduce readers to ambitious new vocabulary, and Van der Poorten includes some helpful diagrams to flesh out information relating to dinosaur body parts. These add depth to each concept and help to support understanding. … Children will love the interactions between the dinosaur duo and the changing graphic illustrations of the tyrannosaurus as each discovery is unveiled.  … The Tyrannosaur’s Feathers is a creative, informative and fun non-fiction book, and a certain hit for any budding palaeontologist in KS2.”
Ellie Labbett, JUST IMAGINE

The Tyrannosaur’s Feathers takes a look at how our scientific understanding of the king of the dinosaurs has changed over time . … a fun look at how our perceptions of dinosaurs has shifted with new discoveries, and I think it might be my favorite in that particular niche of dinosaur books so far.”
DINO DAD REVIEWS

“This is a fascinating book, full of discovery and perfect for those interested in or studying dinosaurs … The humour is marvellous! The interaction between the two dinosaurs is full of fun and giggles … An engaging and entertaining read, little dino fans will love it!”
Caz Cook, TEENY READERS

“For its target audience, it’s succinct, accurate and accessible, and I appreciated the addition of small diagrams to further illustrate the point being made … Van der Poorten’s illustrations are superb throughout, striking a good balance between being stylised and characterful and being anatomically correct (in order to sufficiently convey the changes to the animal’s appearance). They are replete with small touches that may not be noticed on a first read-through, such as T. rex‘s eyes changing from having slit to round pupils when he gains lips. … This is another excellent book for any dino-enthusiast child in your life.”
Marc Vincent,  LOVE IN THE TIME OF  CHASMOSAURS

“Notes alongside their conversation help to develop understanding and the use of ambitious vocabulary is something which young dinosaur lovers seem to thrive on and enjoy! The combination of humorous banter, the illustrations which change in response to this and the abundant scientific information makes this a real winner of a book. … A brilliant addition to any bookshelf! “
THROUGH THE BOOKSHELF