Justice for Pterosaurs: Tas Mukanik Guest Posts
Folks, you may have noticed that I haven’t been posting a lot of reviews lately. The fact of the matter is that once the end of the year rolls around, I begin to lose a bit of steam. That means that there are going to be loads of amazing 2023 books that I just wasn’t able to bring to your attention. Titles like Lost Time, the incredible middle grade graphic novel that has everything from time travel to baby pterosaurs to . . . well, here’s a description:
“Jurassic World meets How to Train Your Dragon in this gorgeously drawn, adventure-packed middle grade graphic novel about a girl who gets trapped 65 million years in the past and must learn to survive with only her wits…and the pterosaur she befriends.
Twelve-year-old Evie didn’t mean to get lost—especially in the Cretaceous period! Now she’s alone, without her parents or anyone else to turn to for help. That is until she rescues a baby pterosaur and raises it on her own. As the baby grows into a giraffe-sized flying reptile, which Evie names Ada, the two manage to to find a way to survive in the prehistoric wilderness.
But Evie will have to risk everything when she makes a discovery that may just be her only chance of returning home. Putting Ada’s flying skills to the ultimate test, the duo must embark on a journey halfway across the world—battling all nature throws at them, from fearsome dinosaurs to raging storms. Will Evie manage to overcome all the odds and find a way back to her family… or is she truly lost in time?”
It is legitimately a ton of fun. A good old-fashioned survival tale and a fun book to boot. So when Penguin Young Readers asked if I might like to host a guest post by creator Tas Mukanik, I said yes and please.
So on that note, please join me in welcoming Tas and her piece on dino fascination:
Like a lot of kids, I had a big dinosaur phase. I mean, who can blame them for having one? Here are some incredible giant reptiles, the perfect fuel for scaly movie monsters, but for once these monsters were actually real. I grew up in the 90s and early 2000s, where dinosaurs had a huge boom thanks to Jurassic Park and subsequent dinosaur media. And I certainly won’t lie that the scary movie monster variety of dinosaur pulled me in, and to this day I still enjoy a good exciting dino-monster. But it was the media that gave me insight on how these were real animals that really kept me plugged in to learning about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, such as the enigmatic pterosaurs.
My biggest dinosaurian obsession as a kid was BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs, which used state of the art CGI of the time and practical effects to present a nature documentary about prehistoric animals. I was hooked on it—my parents taped it and I lovingly watched those tapes over and over. It was that show that had me saying my favourite dinosaur was Leaellynasaura, much to my poor teacher’s attempts to try and spell it for me. I also grew up in Alberta, which meant I was lucky enough to have frequent trips to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, one of Canada’s most extensive dinosaur museums. I was drenched in dinosaur stuff. I ate it all up.
However, I also loved the fantastical, and dinosaurs were no stranger to that either, being so entwined with kids and learning. It was just as often you’d find an educational dinosaur book next to a cute kid’s book involving cartoon dinosaurs brushing their teeth. It was the fantasy that always drew me in—I would pour over the works of James Gurney in his Dinotopia books, where humans interacted and rode dinosaurs in lush painted artworks. I think that’s where I really found the love for pterosaurs, as they were featured prominently in those books, which was oddly rare when it came to any prehistoric media.
Pterosaurs, or pterodactyls, are often mistakenly called dinosaurs. Which to be fair, they did live and die out with the non-avian dinosaurs, and although they aren’t a part of the dinosaur family tree, they’re closely related—kinda like the weird flying cousins. But where dinosaurs have had a renaissance lately, in terms of updating their visage in popular media to be more accurate to what we now know, pterosaurs often lagged behind. They’re like… the B-side of prehistoric creatures. Usually the set dressing, just to have something flying around in the skies. Which I don’t think does them any justice. They were just as unique, if not even stranger, than their dinosaurian cousins too.
If you say “pterodactyl” the picture you probably bring up is a weird scaly or leathery bat-like prehistoric creature, usually with a crest, maybe with teeth and claws. In fact, pterosaurs were likely coated in fluff, and had a very diverse range of appearances and sizes. Some were barely as big as your hand, with frog-like mouths. Some had tall crests that were larger than their own bodies. And some were as big as fighter jets. They were also the first vertebrates to learn to fly, and unlike the modern-day dinosaurs, birds, they walked around on all four legs.
I chose Evie to ride a pterosaur in Lost Time to bring some of that fun insight to life. Ada is a Quetzalcoatlus, which was one of the biggest pterosaurs, and likely one of the largest creatures to fly ever. When I was a kid, giant pterosaurs like Quetzalcoatlus were thought to have been sluggish, and needed to dive off of large cliffs just to get airborne. But this was based on what we knew about birds, and what the largest of birds need to take off. Modern research into pterosaurs has given us a new updated view of them as more active creatures, who could take off on their own power. Of course, perhaps that’s even more terrifying to know that a giraffe-sized flying reptile can take off into the air with just a little push of its legs.
To me, learning about dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures is always a fun journey. Every year new research comes out, and every decade it seems we have more and more understanding, upturning everything we knew before. Even in my own fantastical stories about dinosaurs, I want to foster that fun imagination in what we believe now, and what more we can learn. So much has changed since I was young, and it’s great to see how new media reflects it, too. Apple’s Prehistoric Planet is a new generation’s Walking With Dinosaurs, and includes a lot of wonderful focus and updated depictions of pterosaurs. I also think it just opens the door to so much more interesting ways to design them: we’ve seen the same reptilian dinosaurs and pterosaurs for decades, but what if we could make them weirder and fuzzier? Not only is it unique, it’s also more accurate to what we know!
Not everyone is going to be interested in the educational stuff, but I don’t think that means it should be entirely excluded from the fantasy. Because dinosaurs, and all their weird cousins—they were real animals at one point. To me, that makes them so much more tangible, and exciting, than just any old monster.
Huge thanks to Tas for this piece and to Jenna Smith and the folks at Penguin Young Readers for proposing it. Tas Mukanik is a queer artist best known for her YA and adult self-published works, such as The Sanity Circus and Paint the Town Red. She has a keen interest in drawing fun characters with big expressions, as well as a fascination with birds, nature, and prehistoric life. Lost Time is her debut middle grade graphic novel. Originally from Alberta, she now lives in Montreal, where she and her partner jointly run Windy & Wallflower, an online business. You can see more of her work at windywallflower.com.
Lost Time is now out on bookstore and library shelves everywhere. Be sure to grab yourself a copy whenever you have a moment!
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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