Meet the Megafauna!, a recent children’s book by Gabrielle Balkan, is described as getting to know 20 of the largest animals to ever roam the Earth. Yes, size does matter. But we’re not talking mega dinosaurs here. Her choices are of comparatively lesser-known champions, most of which postdate the extinction of those ruling reptiles. Even so, some disappeared thousands or even millions of years ago.
Defined simply as animals of supersized proportions, Balkan has focused on a fascinating group that have modern relatives to which we can relate. For example, there’s the Supercroc, a crocodilian that was twice the size and eight times as heavy as the largest crocodiles alive today. Then there’s the Giant Ape that disappeared from Earth 100,000 years ago. The top of its head towered to the height of a basketball goal! And keep an eye out for the Giant Shark, which at 60 feet long would make Jaws look like a panfish. Don’t worry about it, though, you can still go in the water. The last one was “seen” 3.6 million years ago.
Not all are extinct however. Three of the featured creatures still roam the earth, including the largest and heaviest animal of all, the Blue Whale (weighing in at 400,000 pounds and a length of over 100 feet!). To help the reader appreciate the immensity of this magnificent cetacean, a nice feature of the book is the presence of gatefolds. The Blue Whale has one which unfolds to just shy of 3 feet.
The book is nicely illustrated by Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien. Kudos to them. Painting animals based upon fossilized bones – in some cases just fragments of them – must have been no small challenge.
But there’s much more to the book than pictures and statistics of animal size and weight. Balkan has created a narrative for each species that brings to life how they might have lived and interacted with other animals of the time, including what they ate, what ate them, how they raised their young, and perhaps most pertinent of all, why they are no longer here.
So where did they go? She lists four possible explanations, including earth’s temperature change, shifting land masses, longer reproduction periods and the actions of early humans. Regarding impacts by today’s humans, she offers ways we can protect modern megafauna that need our help. For their sake, let’s hope they are heeded.
Brownsburg resident Michael Homoya is the co-author of Wake Up, Woods, which appeared on the 2020 Indiana Authors Awards children’s shortlist. He has written more than 75 scientific papers, popular articles and books about Indiana’s natural features, including Orchids of Indiana, Wildflowers and Ferns of Indiana Forests: A Field Guide and Wildflowers of the Midwest. For 37 years he served as botanist/plant ecologist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Nature Preserves before retiring in 2019. Homoya is a Fellow and former president of the Indiana Academy of Science as well as board member and immediate past president of the Indiana Native Plant Society. He is currently an adjunct faculty member in biology at Marian University. In 2019 Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb awarded him the Sagamore of the Wabash for his contributions to preserve Indiana’s natural heritage. Other honors include the Indiana Academy of Science Distinguished Scholar Award, the Distinguished Career Public Service Award from Conservation Law Center and the Barbara J. Restle Lifetime Conservation Award from Sycamore Land Trust.
Gabrielle Balkan is best known for non-fiction books that delight readers ages 0-12 with curious and essential facts about the United States and animal record-breakers. Her books include four titles in The 50 States series; five titles in the Book of Bones series; Georgia O’Keefe: She Saw the World in a Flower; and her latest titles Meet the Megafauna: Get to Know 20 of the Largest Animals to Ever Roam the Earth and What a Map Can Do. Gabrielle grew up across from the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis with teacher parents. She now lives, works, and rides bikes in New York’s Hudson Valley with her twin 8th graders and a writer husband.
Monthly reviews of books written by Indiana authors are made possible by the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Awards and Indiana Humanities. Opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the reviewer, not any affiliated entity.