Scientists are raving about Norfolk mum and daughter's dinosaur book
- Credit: Dale Watson
Mother and daughter duo Jill Smith and Jennifer Watson are enjoying roaring success after combining their love of art and the natural world.
Professional palaeontologists have praised their artwork for its accuracy, and families are snapping up their charming, and fascinating, A-Z book of extinct animals, and a linked range of children’s bags, clothing and accessories.
Jill (mum, who lives in Yaxham, near Dereham) and Jennifer (daughter, of nearby Hockering) were inspired to set up Dodo and Dinosaur during the first lockdown, and last year welcomed children into their prehistoric world with the book An A-Z of Extraordinary Extinct Creatures.
It introduced weird and wonderful extinct beasts in words and pictures. Meet a woolly mammoth, a dodo and a dinosaur of course, and many even more unfamiliar creatures including the josephoartigas, which was the biggest rodent that ever lived, a wingless bird called the moa and the europasaurus, oxalaia, and xenoceratops.
Even professor of palaeontology and vice president of the palaeontological association Richard Butler learned something, saying: “The book goes beyond the dinosaurs that everyone knows to much more obscure creatures – some of them were new to me!”
Jennifer said: “The enthusiasm for our unusual collection of dinosaurs and other extinct creatures has blown us away!”
Part of the inspiration for the business came from her son, Artie, now three, who has been fascinated by dinosaurs and all things prehistoric for since he was a baby.
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“Some of his first words were different dinosaurs, so he was a fantastic critic whilst we were designing and writing the book!” said Jennifer. “Artie now knows more species of prehistoric creatures than we do.”
Jennifer was on maternity leave from her job in marketing and design for the National Trust when she began thinking about launching her own business. She had studied film production at the Norwich University of the Arts while Jill had worked in exhibition graphics and as a freelance illustrator. They both loved natural history and decided to combine their skills and interests.
“We knew dinosaurs were popular, but wanted to create something a bit different, so began researching some lesser-known species,” said Jennifer. “Jill commented that we could have a weird and wonderful creature for every letter of the alphabet, so this is when our book An A-Z of Extraordinary Extinct Creatures began to take shape.”
Jennifer, aged 28, and Jill, 58, make a good team. “We're great friends and our partnership has been a wonderful opportunity to combine our skill sets and family life,” said Jennifer. “Jill is a fantastic grandmother to mine and my sister's children. All the grandchildren are very close in age with Artie turning three soon, my niece Adeleine aged two and my one-year-old Jemima. My sister Josie, is now also expecting a little boy in July - it's been a pretty intense time with three little ones often with us while we work!”
Alongside the book, printed on sustainably-sourced paper, Jennifer and Jill have created a range of products for children’s bedrooms, playrooms and school bags made from eco-friendly materials, using their A-Z designs. Their prehistoric animals feature on rucksacks, pencil cases, posters, play mats, aprons, tee shirts and clocks and are stocked at Norfolk visitor attractions including Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure and Pensthorpe Natural Park – and as far afield as the Dinosaur Isle museum on the Isle of Wight.
“We research and plan everything together, then Jill creates the illustrations in her unique pen and watercolour style, before I develop them into designs,” said Jennifer. “We both then manufacture the products at our design studio in Yaxham.”
They hope their book and products will help young children find out more about prehistoric animals and grow up sharing their love of natural history, as well as developing an awareness of the importance of protecting the wildlife we still have.
"Since releasing An A-Z of Extraordinary Extinct Creatures our book has been well received by schools nationwide and we were quickly reviewed by Primary Times magazine, as well as by palaeontologists!” said Jennifer. “In fact, Dr David Waterhouse, senior curator of natural history for Norfolk Museums Service, is now our go-to for the more technical questions we have and has been a great supporter of our work.
“It is really important to us that our designs maintain a reasonable amount of accuracy, whilst having a colourful and friendly charm for a young audience.”
She said her husband, Dale, a primary school teacher, had also been a big help.
This summer Jennifer and Jill are supporting the charity GoGoDiscover trails of T.rex and mammoth sculptures around Norwich and Norfolk.
They have created T. rex and Steppe Mammoth bags, badges and pictures, to be released when the trails begin on June 27.
They will also host creative workshops for families in partnership with GoGoDiscover at venues across the county including Pensthorpe Natural Park, Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure and Norwich bookshops and the Forum – plus activities as part of the Norwich Science Festival bugs and beasts weekend at Waterloo Park on July 23 and 24.
Then they will be taking their dinosaur fun to London. “Our next project is with the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, which are the first ever sculptures of what scientists thought dinosaurs (and other prehistoric creatures) would have looked like and were exhibited as part of the Great Exhibition in 1851,” said Jennifer. “The sculptures still stand today in Crystal Palace Park, London, and we're working with the conservation charity Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs to bring these to life through Jill’s vibrant illustrations for a new generation of supporters.”
The pair are delighted to have been nominated for the title Best Children’s Business in Norfolk by Muddy Stilettos.
“Our bestsellers are definitely our book and Extraordinary Extinct card game, however our supplementary products have been really popular gifts, as they can be customised with the creature of your choice and are made from high quality organic and eco-friendly materials,” said Jennifer. “Little ones love to choose the creature with the letter of the alphabet that matches their own name.” dodoanddinosaur.com
The dinosaurs and mammoths roaming Norfolk this summer
The fabulously decorated Tyrannosaurus rex sculptures which stomped through Norwich last summer will be joined by more of their tribe – plus 24 steppe mammoths stalking holiday hotspots across Norfolk - from June 27.
Tracking down the prehistoric predators is free but the trails are also expected to raise many thousands of pounds for Norfolk-based family charity Break. The sculptures will be auctioned at Norwich Cathedral on September 28.
Over the years the GoGoDiscover sculptures have raised more than a million pounds for Break. This year’s T. rexes and mammoths are the latest stars in the series of trails delivered in partnership with Wild in Art, to raise money for Break, beginning with elephants in 2008, followed by gorillas in 2013, dragons in 2015, hares in 2018 and dinosaurs in 2021.
The prehistoric trails of dinosaurs and mammoths run until September 10 and people can also support Break, and locate and identify all 79 animal artworks, by picking up a trail map (suggested donation £1) from venues including Norwich’s Forum and Royal Arcade, and Jarrold and Break shops, or by downloading the new GoGoDiscover app (£1.99). An extra herd of 90cm-tall T. rex sculptures has been decorated by schoolchildren and members of community groups and will be part of the Norwich city centre trail. Full details of the trail will begin to be revealed from Monday June 20 at break-charity.org/gogodiscover.
There will also be souvenir stickers to collect and fill a special sticker book - with tokens for stickers printed in the Eastern Daily Press, Norwich Evening News and Archant's paid-for weekly Norfolk papers.
The GoGoDiscover Norwich and Norfolk 2022 Sticker Book, features all the sculptures and a trail map and is available for pre-order with £1 off the standard price – full details at norfolkstore.co.uk/go-go-discover