At this point in my life I can claim a few trades. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I have a reasonable amount of professional experience in sheep herding, in illustration, in writing for kids, or in critical scholarship regarding paranormal claims (or at least certain such claims in specific). But there are many things I’m not—things with which skeptics may sometimes feel more identification than we have expertise. I’m not a psychologist, sociologist, nor doctor, for example. My statements related to those (and indeed most) academic fields should not be considered remotely authoritative.
And despite my children’s books touching on topics of prehistoric life, I’m not a paleontologist.
I care about accuracy in all my work. But although I work hard to get things right in my natural history-informed paleofiction storybooks for kids (Tales of Prehistoric Life, from Kids Can Press), it was probably just a matter of time until some error came to light. That happened when we brought in paleozoologist (and Scientific American blogger) Darren Naish as Science Consultant early in the production cycle for Pterosaur Trouble (the upcoming second book in the series, following Ankylosaur Attack).
When we sent Naish a copy of Ankylosaur Attack for reference, he sent back his compliments with this parenthetical note: “(technical inaccuracy in having those Pteranodon-type pterosaurs flying over Ankylosaurus and Tyrannosaurus though.)” Although Pteranodon did, like Tyrannosaurus rex, live in North America during the Late Cretaceous, they did not overlap. As Naish explained,
Animals tend to be ‘stage specific.’ That is, Tyrannosaurus rex, say, wasn’t just alive in the ‘Late Cretaceous’—rather, it was specifically unique (so far as we know) to the Maastrichtian, the last stage of the Late Cretaceous. Several classic Late Cretaceous dinosaurs—Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus and Ankylosaurus among them—are Maastrichtian. Pteranodon longiceps (the animal shown in your book) is not this young—it’s from the older Santonian (and I think possibly from the Campanian too). In fact there were no pteranodontids by the Maastrichtian—the only N. American pterosaurs still around were the azhdarchids.
Sure, it’s not the biggest mistake ever to appear in dinosaur fiction (nor nonfiction, for that matter). All the same, this aspect of the book’s illustrations (the text merely specifies “pterosaurs”) was simply incorrect.
That bothered me.
By the time this inaccuracy became apparent, the book was printed and shipped and in stores. I decided to see what I could do to fix it anyway.
I wrote to my editor Valerie Wyatt and through her to Kids Can Press, offering to replace the Pteranodon-type pterosaurs. If the book goes to reprint, I told them, I could swap in more accurate animals then. Just give me 48 hours notice. They said they’d make a note of that.
Then, having done what I could, I consoled myself with the book’s strengths. Honestly, I didn’t expect my revision offer to get me anywhere. A big company like Kids Can Press (part of media giant Corus) has a complex time-management system—and plenty of stuff that needs managing. Dealing with authors makes things plenty complicated enough. Unusual requests cost money. Asking to jump in late in the book’s lifespan with an extra step to fix something that might seem pretty trivial to many people—and expecting a big company to rememberthat I’d made this request—well, Kids Can has high standards, but I told myself not to count on it.
Months went by. Then, late last week, I got an email from Kids Can Press after all. Ankylosaur Attack is going to another print run, they told me, and there turns out to be this design note appended to the print files…. They were sorry about the short notice, but if I really wanted to make the change, I had the weekend to do it.
So that (with a toast to Kids Can Press for the opportunity) is exactly what I’ve done.
I’ve just submitted corrected versions of the two images in which Pteranodon-type pterosaurs had appeared; both pages now feature Quetzalcoatlus-type pterosaurs instead. New copies of the book will be that much more accurate—and look better for it, too. The revised pages utilize the pycnofibre-covered custom creature design Jim W.W. Smith and I developed for Pterosaur Trouble (under Naish’s watchful eye). This Quetzalcoatlus is a considerably better model than the Pteranodon I’d originally used for Book 1 (a commercially available CG model to which I added some custom upgrades to textures and some tweaking in post). That makes the revised image shown in this post the first public peek at the protagonist for Book 2! (Click banner above. Pop up gallery window should display the original version first; click “next” to see the revised version.)
Last Fall when I told Naish about the fix I’d proposed to Kids Can, he replied, “Wow, how cool :) That’s science, kids!”
Perhaps not quite science—but let’s call it another step in the right direction.