Poetry Month Kid Lit Review of “In the Past” by David Elliott

This book of humorous and informative poems for young readers takes us through the geologic periods of Earth’s history beginning with the Cambrian Era, around 540 million years ago, when “life exploded.” It ends with the Quaternary Era, which began around 1.8 million years ago. Why then? As the author explains in his note at the end of the book, “You might be surprised to find that the Quaternary hasn’t ended yet. In other words, humans share a geologic period with wooly mammoths and cave bears.”

In each period, readers meet a different creature or two, beginning with the Cambrian Era Trilobite, which kids may be familiar with if they have gone to fossil shows, where they tend to be in abundance. As the poem says,

“So many of you.
So long ago.
So much above you.
Little below.”

They will probably particularly enjoy becoming acquainted with the Dunkleosteus, from the Devonian Period:

“You weren’t picky
When it came to diet;
If it lived in the ocean,
You would try it,
Which leads me to raise
This delicate question:

Your face –
The unhappy result
Of indigestion?”

Or the Anthropleura from the Carboniferous Period:

“The bad news: Like a centipede. Eight feet long. Or more.
The good news: Arthropleura was an herbivore.”

The Smilodon, or saber-toothed tiger, from the Neogene Period is described thusly:

“No compassion.
No tolerance.
No mercy.
No pity.
And definitely no
‘Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.’ ”

Adult readers needn’t fear the challenges of reading this book aloud: the names of the featured creatures are given phonetic pronunciations at the end of the book, along with some background information about them.

Illustrations by Matthew Trueman impart a sense of the weirdness (to our modern eyes) and show either the ferocity or the surprising gentleness of these strange creatures.

Evaluation: Judging from the way I always see kids clustered around dinosaur books in libraries and bookstores, kids aged 3 and up will love this compendium of prehistoric animals and the clever funny verses that describe them.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Candlewick Press, 2018

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