Nonfiction Friday: When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm

Here’s the highest compliment I can pay a children’s nonfiction author: when we didn’t finish Hannah Bonner’s When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth and Bugs Began to Swarm: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long Before Dinosaurs before nap time, I finished it myself — sans children — while the babes slept. Here’s the second highest compliment I can pay an author: We love this book so much, I bought a Hannah Bonner book for my fossil-loving 10-year-old niece for Christmas months ago.

Bonner mixes her clever and humorous cartoons with complex evolutionary concepts to discuss life WAY before the dinosaurs roamed the earth (specifically the Silurian and Devonian). She begins the book with a look at Pennsylvania 430 million years ago, a land covered with algae, lichen and moss. This land had little life compared with the vast ocean, which was teeming with living things. How did we get from this to life swarming on terra firma? Bonner deftly explains in the first of three books covering time leading up to and including the dinosaurs. (Her most recent book covering dinosaurs is forthcoming in 2012).

Perhaps my favorite appendix is the first, which shows an illustrated timeline of earth beginning with the Big Bang. This resulted in me having to explain Big Bang Theory to a four-year-old, but no matter. It was wonderful to be able to place the creatures in the book in relative context visually.

While Bonner’s books are probably most appropriate for upper elementary school students, anyone can enjoy them from preschoolers to adults. I found it to be a fantastic refresher of the natural science I studied in eighth grade. If you have a budding paleontologist, you’ll probably want to buy all three of Hannah Bonner’s books.

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