Is it a bird, is it a plane, is it a dinosaur?

Yep, that’s right, scientists have been studying the connection of today’s modern birds to their long-lost relatives, the dinosaurs. For many years, paleontologists believed that all dinosaurs were just giant lizard-like creatures.

I Am Hatzegopteryx
from I Am Hatzegopteryx by Timothy J. Bradley – releasing September 2021

Relatively recent discoveries in China have changed the minds of many scientists. This area of Northeastern China has attracted paleontologists to explore the lake and volcanic ash deposits abundant with ancient fossils. These fossils are bird-like in structure and lead to the newly held belief that many dinosaurs were feathered.

A local farmer dug in the rock and knew he had something special when he found the first fossil of Confuciusornis (sacred bird of Confucius). The fossil, about the size of a modern-day crow, had a beak and feathers with a long plumage tail. Since this discovery, more digging into the rocks in the region has unearthed other ancient flying dinosaurs, protopteryx, Sapeornis, and Yanornis. 

But these are not the only flying dinosaurs. Long before Confuciusornis, Archaeopteryx was dated to have lived 150 million-years-ago, and part of the Avialae clade. These are the closest relatives to modern birds. They had larger braincases, feathers, and pneumatic bones like today’s birds; but also had teeth, three-fingered hands and claws, and a long, stiffened tail like dinosaurs.

from Dino Treasures by Rhonda Lucas Donald, illustrated by Cathy Morrison

But when you ask a child about ancient creatures of the sky, most will answer with the pterodactyl. The pterodactyl is one type of Pterosaur that ranges in size from a fighter jet to a sparrow. With HUGE heads, long necks, heavy bones, and stiff skin-like wings, these flying lizards were terrifying carnivores to the dinosaurs living below.  

The Pterosaurs evolved significantly over time. They lived from 251 million years ago to 66 million years ago, and in that time, some species got larger, while others showed different ways they took off for flight. But the most baffling to many scientists is how they were able to hold up their giant heads. Paleontologists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have recently had a breakthrough modeling how the vertebrae were arranged to create a strong structure.

We are excited to introduce a relatively new pterosaur to young readers this fall, the Hatzegopteryx. They were giants of the sky and believed to be a dominant predator in the area now known as Romania. The first fossil was found in 2002 in Transylvania. 

Timothy J. Bradley’s story, I am Hatzegopteryx follows a Hatzegopteryx from egg to extinction as he grows and learns to soar. Written in simple three-word sentences, even the smallest dinosaur enthusiast will be reading this book in no time. Learn more about the book and the author, even download the “For Creative Minds” section on the book’s homepage

You can also dive into paleontology techniques in Arbordale’s free ebook of the month Dino Treasures

Because of science, we know we can, but should we…

birdsRecently, I was listening to a conversation about dinosaurs and the new Jurassic World movie. This made me think, what if we really could bring back a dinosaur? Is it really a good idea?

Biologists, paleontologists, and other types of scientists have made major advancements in studying fossils and extracting DNA information. For example, just a couple decades ago all dinosaurs were thought to be scaly green creatures. Now, we know that many of the dinosaurs had feathers and were very brightly colored.


Other advancements have been made in animal science. In 1996 Dolly the Sheep made news as the first sheep cloned from an adult cell. Other scientists have talked about the ability to reintroduce the woolly mammoth.

It would be amazing to think of a T-Rex stomping through the backyard. I don’t know if I want to see a beast the size of a bus coming toward me with those teeth especially after seeing the movies.

If your little ones want to learn more about dinosaurs, here is a short Arbordale reading list.

Dino Treasures

DinoTreasures_187by Rhonda Lucas Donald & illustrated by Cathy Morrison

Just as some people dig and look for pirate treasure, some scientists dig and look for treasures, too. These treasures may not be gold or jewels but fossils. Following in the footsteps of Dino Tracks, this sequel takes young readers into the field with paleontologists as they uncover treasured clues left by dinosaurs. Readers will follow what and how scientists have learned about dinosaurs: what they ate; how they raised their young; how they slept, fought, or even if they ever got sick. True to fashion, the tale is told through a rhythmic, fun read-aloud that can even be sung to the tune of Itsy Bitsy Spider.

Dino Tracks
DinoTracks_187by Rhonda Lucas Donald & illustrated by Cathy Morrison

Step back in time and follow dinosaur tracks around the world. Whether made by a few dinosaurs or large groups, these tracks provide clues to the movement and behavior of these lovable ancient creatures. What dinosaurs made the tracks and what do scientists think they were doing when they made them? The author tells the story in rhythmic rhyme that may be sung to the tune of Over the River and Through the Woods.


Wandering Woolly
WandrngWoolly_187written & illustrated by Andrea Gabriel

Little Woolly leaves her mother behind as she chases a toad down to the river. When the glacial ice breaks, she is swept away in the rumbling, rolling water. Now alone, the mammoth calf struggles to survive. She must sneak past cave lions, bears, saber-toothed cats and humans. Exhausted and afraid, she must even hide from stormy weather as she fights her way back to her herd. How can she find them? Will she ever get back?




Decoding Dino Tracks

If you ever take a stroll through the historic streets of Charleston, South Carolina you will probably hear the guinea fowl before you see them. Among the mansions and historic sites a flock of these birds roam free. Now scientists at Brown University have employed this chicken-like bird to help understand more about how dinosaur tracks formed, how dinosaurs moved and how the soil structure impacted the tracks.

The scientists are using x-ray video and poppy seeds to get a better understanding of how tracks were made and preserved over so many years. This also gives them insight into how dinosaurs walked and moved across the land. Watch here:

Paleontologists are constantly learning more about how fossils were created and learning more about the animal itself. Author Rhonda Lucas Donald is fascinated with dinosaurs and the field of paleontology, her book Dino Tracks is a great introduction to tracks and how they are found. The follow-up Dino Treasures is coming this January and goes further into how paleontologists have discovered different traits of these large beasts through the artifacts they left behind.

DinoTracks_187  DinoTreasures_187

Check out the books on

Meet Dino Tracks Illustrator Cathy Morrison

Cathy-Morrison-originalIt is an incredible talent to take an author’s words and bring them to life in a picture book. Cathy Morrison has this incredible talent, and has illustrated Animalogy, Three Little Beavers, Nature Recycles: How About You?, and most recently Dino Tracks. Cathy talked with us about the challenge and process of bringing dinos to life!

Working with dinosaurs seems like it would allow an illustrator a lot of creative freedom. Did you find these prehistoric creatures fun or challenging to create? Do you have a favorite dinosaur you worked on in Dino Tracks?

Illustrating Dino Tracks proved to be both fun and challenging.  On one hand there is a lot of creative freedom, or what I like to call “artistic license” in drawing dinosaurs since nobody’s ever seen one. But the science is evolving so quickly that by the time I’d finished my last spread of artwork, I found things I wanted to go back and change in the first spread of artwork because of additional research that I uncovered. I had so many questions: which dinosaurs had feathers and what about colors? We’re used to seeing them portrayed in earth tones but now that we envision them as more like birds (and lizards too) I wanted to go more colorful. Just think about the colors of birds, it’s pretty much endless. So I went out on a limb (yes, that’s a pun in case you were wondering) and made them more colorful. Here’s an article from “Live Science” that explains how much we’ve discovered about dinosaurs in the last twenty years. This article came out after I completed the illustrations but sums up a lot about the research.

I think my favorite dinosaurs were the ones that lived in polar climates. They looked like ostriches and I think they’re called timimus, which are small theropods. I still get confused with all the names. I learned a lot when I worked on this book but still feel like I barely scratched the surface compared to true paleo-artists.


What type of programs or medium did you use for Dino Traks? And, how were you able to create these semi-transparent dinosaurs on some of the pages?

I illustrate digitally on a Wacom Cintiq tablet, drawing directly on the monitor. The software I used for Dino Tracks is Corel Painter and Adobe Photoshop.  I create the artwork in layers, so the background is on a layer, the mid and foreground might be on their own layers, and the dinosaurs are isolated on their on layers.  This helps the Sylvan Dell editor to be able to pull out a dinosaur and use it for their Creative Minds section or marketing materials. Also now a lot of publishers are turning their books into apps and the layers can help with animating these apps. I used to work in an animation studio years ago and it’s the same concept that we used to shoot animation cells.

finalBut back to your question about the semi-transparent dinosaurs; I wish I could say I’m just that good but there’s a pretty simple way that I made that happen. I didn’t want to show people with dinosaurs, just thought it might be confusing to the reader. So I thought it would be cool to ghost back the illustration of the dinosaur in the spreads that included people. Since the dinosaur was isolated on a separate layer from the background I worked with Donna German, my editor and art director and we were able to play around with different percentages to give it that semi-transparent effect. I think we ended up screening them back 25%. You still see the dinosaur but it gives the feeling that the image is from another time, sort of like a ghost. Hopefully it gives the look we’re trying to achieve.


There are a lot of repeated background elements throughout the book such as water, mountain ranges, and sparse vegetation. Was this the plan all a long or something that just occurred once you started working? And could you shed some light on your creative process? Do you have a signature artistic style or element for fans and readers to watch out for? 

I had absolutely no plan when I started illustrating Dino Tracks, just a lot of questions. This is the first dinosaur book for Sylvan Dell and for me too. Sylvan Dell has all their books vetted by professionals in their field. Even though they are picture books, they need to be accurate. So initially I did my research and sent my rough story board layouts to them and they turned them over to Jeffrey A. Wilson, Associate Professor at the department of Earth & Environmental Sciences and Associate Curator of the Museum of Paleontology at the University of Michigan. He didn’t make a ton of suggestions but his comments really helped to clarify what was important to show about dinosaur tracks. It focused the direction of the illustrations and I was able to get a clear vision and go on from there.

Every artist has a signature style, their own voice that they develop over the years. I like adding a lot of interesting little details that I hope will enhance the author’s words.


What advice would you give readers who are interested in illustration or art? What was your favorite art project as a kid? What inspired you to become an illustrator?

I think you should do what you love but don’t expect an easy road ahead. For every job I’ve been contracted for, I have probably gotten over twenty rejections before that one job came through. So you need to listen to construction criticism and grow with each project. Art styles may be popular one year then passé the next and you have to stay true to yourself but at the same time evolve and keep up with technology and what publishers are looking for. It’s not for everybody and it’s not easy.

When I was young (not a kid but early twenties) I liked sewing and fashion design a lot. My mom used to sew all our clothes growing up and she taught me to sew as well. I was never as skilled as her but became fascinated by what went into making clothes and how fashion evolved through history. It’s pretty amazing what lengths people go through to be fashionable and the role that clothing has played through history; from the bound feet of the Chinese women, to quilters sewing quilt codes to guide slaves in the Underground Railroad, to the revolutionary mini skirt, to tattoos and body piercing today. Fashion makes cultural and political statements around the world and I’ve always been interested in that. I considered being a fashion illustrator and did a summer abroad program in Paris, France with Parson School of Design which was a life changing experience. But I have to say when my kids were little and I started reading children’s books I knew that was it for me. And I feel very lucky to still be illustrating children’s books today.


Readers don’t have to wait long for new books by Cathy.  Coming to stores in February is Daisylocks, an adaptation of Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Marianne Berkes,  and more dinosaurs will be hitting bookshelves this fall with Dino Treasures set for release in August 2014. Stay connected with Sylvan Dell Publishing to find out more!



Discovery of New Dinosaur Species!

The bones of an all-new species of tyrannosaurid dinosaur have been discovered in China. The Zhuchengtyrannus magnus is one of the largest predatory dinosaurs found and is comparable to its cousin, the infamous Tyrannosaurus Rex. It is estimated that the specimen was around 10 meters long and weighed 6 tons. Like others in its family, the Zhuchengtyrannus is characterized by a large cranium and jaws, as well as tiny forearms. This massive beast lived in the late Cretaceous period and the bones have been dated at 70 million years old. The actual fossils that have been discovered are pieces of the jaw, teeth, and cranium.


According to David Hone, one of the paleontologists responsible for the discovery, the location of the fossils is equally important. Zhucheng, Shandong Province in China is one of the most fossil-rich sites in the world and more than 50 metric tons have been collected since 1960. The area was a flood plain in the Cretaceous period, leading to a wide variety of species being washed together. In fact, David Hone estimates that there may be another distinct species of Tyrannosaurus present, based on fragmentary fossils.

For more detailed information on the discovery, including ecology and taxonomy, check out his blog: