Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Prehistoric notes

Deborah Heiligman’s post yesterday inspired me to share my own system of compiling research. I’m working on a picture book that started with my editor’s suggestion to do a book of dinosaur jokes. In the course of rummaging through books and web sites full of fascinating life forms, the project has turned into a whirlwind tour of life on Earth with poems, jokes, riddles, and fun facts.

Digital lists have worked well, just regular word processing documents. They include:
• Geological periods with important developments (the first land plant; the first fish with jaws; the first insects; the first bird—see Archaeopteryx, at left.)
• Info on the various groups of animals with potential candidates to feature in the book.
• Jokes by group (e.g. amphibian jokes, plant jokes, etc.)
• An outline of which animals/plants/info/joke/poem could go on each spread.

I also have separate documents or folders with notes about writing rhyming verse; reference photos of skulls, skeletons, and/or reconstructions of various life forms; samples of art styles I tested; and so on. Also, quite a few bookmarks of various web sites such as with pronunciations for those long scientific names. After all, you can’t write a verse about the mosasaur Prognathodon if you don’t know how to pronounce it (prog-NATH-oh-don.)

In addition to having to wade through a great deal of information, one of the inevitable problems with prehistory is that the “facts” can change. From what is the tallest/largest/smallest dinosaur to the name of the first horse (bye-bye, Eohippus,) the chances of at least some of the information changing are close to 100%. But hey, updates and corrections what web sites are for. When new fossils are found or old ones are reinterpreted, it’s just part of the progress and self-correcting nature of science.

And authors keep writing great books about paleontological subjects. Just yesterday I heard an interview on NPR about this book... haven’t read it yet, but it sounds excellent.

What on Earth Evolved: 100 Species That Changed the World
by Christopher Lloyd
2009, 416 pages

A download and transcript of the interview with the author can be found here.

Happy holidays to I.N.K. readers!


* said...

"Facts" can change, indeed! Funny how history is.

A book of dinosaur jokes sounds terrific, and your system of organizing is great.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Terresa, I think kids will like the mix of humor and real info.