It is with much excitement that I am able to reveal the front cover of The Plesiosaur’s Neck, a new children’s picture book written by Jonathan Emmett and myself. The book, illustrated by the excellent Adam Larkum, is being published by UCLan Publishing.
“There’s one thing about her that’s hard to ignore,
THAT RIDICULOUS NECK! What on Earth was it for?”
It all started on this very blog in 2014 when I wrote an article entitled ‘Why did elasmosaurids have such a long neck?‘. This mystery has fuelled much speculation and creativity among palaeontologists trying to explain the plesiosaur’s neck, so I took the opportunity to list all the hypotheses to date, some of them sensible, some of them less so. I think it was my friend Alan O’Connor who immediately suggested that the topic might make for a fascinating children’s book, so that idea was stewing around in my head for a while. But it was more a pipe dream than a realistic objective. However, as the saying goes: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
I first met Jonathan Emmett in 2017 at Wollaton Hall where I work in the Nottingham Natural History Museum as a part-time curator. Jonathan was there to plan the launch of his wonderful picture book, How The Borks Became. How The Borks Became cleverly and creatively explains the process of evolution by natural selection, so the museum was an ideal venue for its launch in 2018. Jonathan also performed early readings of the book to school groups visiting the exhibition Dinosaurs of China, and we became good friends. I pitched the idea of a collaborative book all about the plesiosaur’s neck, and with Jonathan’s ability with words and experience as a children’s author everything swiftly fell into place.
The Plesiosaur’s Neck book focusses on an Albertonectes plesiosaur named Poppy. Albertonectes has the longest neck of all the plesisosaurs, so Poppy is a perfect case study to ponder the prehistoric puzzle of the plesiosaur’s neck. Much like the blog article that inspired it, The Plesiosaur’s Neck explores some of the many suggestions put forward by scientists. The main rhyming text is supplemented by more detailed information boxes exploring some of the science behind each hypothesis, while a pair of cheeky cephalopods – Alfie Ammonite and Bella Belemnite – make observations and provide a running commentary.
Adam Larkum has lavishly populated the spreads with a menagerie of other Cretaceous critters. Since this is a children’s book the challenge has been to ensure scientific accuracy while also making the characters appealing and fun. To this end I feel we’ve struck the perfect balance and I can’t wait for readers to enjoy it.
Poppy the plesiosaur had a preposterously long neck – but what was it for? Did she use it to pluck off pesky parasites, to zap predators with electricity or to ambush unlucky fish?
In a general sense the book provides a microcosm of the scientific method: generating and testing alternative hypotheses. The science of palaeontology is driven by questions like these, and my personal hope is that the book might encourage young readers to grow up thinking both creatively and critically with an evidence-based open mind.
It has been such an exciting process seeing this book transform from an idea into reality. The Plesiosaur’s Neck will be 32 pages, classified as narrative non-fiction, and has a RRP of £7.99 (paperback). It is set for release this spring, on 6th May 2021, so watch this space…