Dinosaur Habitats with Dimetrodon, Elasmosaurus, and Tyrannosaurus (Playland Books)

2.5 (4 votes)

Review and photos by Charles Peckham, edited by Suspsy

Dinosaur Habitats is described as a book, but it’s not bound with pages in the traditional sense. Rather, it stretches out like an accordion to reveal three pop-up displays that each include a paragraph talking about the geological period and area they represent. The set also originally included stickers and three ‘pinch dolls,’ which is how this book describes toys that are spring loaded in the arms, so that they are able to clutch onto an area. If there is a term for this type of toy that is more common than pinch doll, I was unable to find it. If you know of one, please let me know in the comments. All the pinch dolls are made from a soft plastic and are hollow inside, so that they can be squeezed like a clothespin and clipped into their environment.

My Dinosaur Habitats book is well-loved. Most of the pop up displays are torn or missing segments. The book was published in 1989, and  I’m of the opinion damage is to be expected from something so delicate and old and made for children. However, I saw a few surprisingly intact copies on eBay.

The Permian display folds out to reveal several stories of paper scaffolding, topped with an erupting volcano. There’s plenty of holes for the Dimetrodon to poke through, and the rocky landscape includes a pond as well as some plants and animals. There’s no indication of what species the animals or plants are intended to to be. The paragraph on the page talks about Edaphosaurus, Eryops, and Diplocaulus, but neither of the two animals on the page resemble any of those.

Come to think of it, the Dimetrodon toy’s head reminds me a bit of an Eryops. It’s got a funny, sort of amphibian look to it, and a blank, open mouthed expression that is neither fierce nor friendly. The toy is tan, with a covering of wrinkly skin and a sail that looks a bit like it was added after the fact (Maybe this toy really was originally supposed to be an Eryops?). The animal is painted black on top, showing some nice countershading. The teeth are painted white and the eyes are distinct with a sclera and pupil each. The head was made separately and glued on to the body, presumably to allow for the gripping function to be inserted into the body. It has a funny posture, since the front legs contain the pinch function, while the hindlimbs are sprawled to the side.

The Tertiary period is represented with an ocean scene. Waves crash and flow through a rocky environment, while sea plants and a plesiosaur are swimming around. A pterosaur can be seen flying over the scene, presumably looking for its next meal. The plesiosaur printed on the page looks nothing like the Elasmosaurus toy included with the book. As a child, that always confused me.

The Elasmosaurus pinches with its hindlimbs, while its forelimbs are splayed in a way that looks like it’s going in for a hug. Quadrupeds just look odd as pinch dolls. The toy is a light, grayish purple with black countershading. The paint on my figure has been almost completely worn off after years of play, but it has an odd, sort of mammalian head, with a toothy smirk and very distinct brow ridges. I really like the texture of the integument on this toy. The skin is cross hatched, with large warty bumps sprinkled over. I don’t suspect it’s very accurate, but it’s an interesting look that I’ve never seen on another plesiosaur toy.

The Cretaceous page displays a lush jungle scene, with lots of trees and vines creating a scaffolding for the Tyrannosaurus to climb on. There aren’t any animals in this environment, but this page is especially thrashed in my copy so it’s completely possible that a portion with animals printed on it got torn off at some point.

The Tyrannosaurus toy is a nice dark green, with black countershading, and also has painted eyes and teeth. It has wrinkled elephant skin like the Dimetrodon. If the stance didn’t give away that this is the old style of T. rex, the visible ears behind the eyes should give it away. The open mouth on the Tyrannosaurus is huge and has an almost friendly smile. This T. rex looks tougher than Barney, but not by much. The Tyrannosaurus and Elasmosaurus are glued together at the waist. Little effort was done to hide the seam, but what these toys lack in seamlessness they make up for with panache.

These are simple toys and they provide simple joys. Their educational value is probably a bit lacking, but they’re cute and interactive and can be paired with the book in a way that stokes the flames of imagination. The book is fairly easy to find from second hand retailers. The toys not so much.

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