Just about every child I know has been through a dinosaur phase – and for some, it never stops! Here are some fantastic books to make the most of this interest, and extend it.
Now, there are lots of funny fictional books about dinosaurs wearing undies or riding tricycles. That’s great, of course, but today’s list covers books where the dinosaurs are real creatures in a real world.
These are enjoyable books that lay a helpful, age-appropriate scientific foundation for children. My list isn’t all factual reference books – some are just normal picture books – but none of them are plain fantasy.
How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum, by Jessie Hartland
How does a mighty Diplodocus go from grazing the plains of North America 145 million years ago to having its bones on display in a museum?
Structured a bit like The House that Jack Built, here’s the story of all the different people involved along the way, from a bone-hunter in the deserts of Utah, to the preparators, night watchman, and even welders at the Smithsonian Museum. Each spread introduces the next person or team in the chain, from desert to display, until we see a fully-assembled skeleton on show at the museum.
It’s a fun way of seeing lots of different grown-up jobs, and all the problem-solving that goes into a real-life adult task. The illustrations are done in a child-like painting style with plenty of detail to look at along the way. This is a book that’s interesting for dinosaur fans and also other children, and they can all enjoy the repetition that comes as the chain of people grows and grows.
Knowledge Encyclopedia: Dinosaur!
My son was three when we got this for him and it has remained a favourite ever since, along with the Animals! encyclopedia from the same series. Hundreds of glossy pages introduce dinosaurs from all over the world.
There’s enough depth of information about the prehistoric period and the biology of the animals that a high school student would find it useful, but an interested pre-schooler will also find it endlessly absorbing.
We’ve all learned a huge amount from this book! A firm favourite.
Atlas of Dinosaur Adventures by Lucy Letherland and Emily Hawkins
For children who are ready to go beyond tyrannosaurus, triceratops, and stegosaurus (everyone’s first three dinosaurs, am I right?), this is a lovely, colourful resource.
The Atlas presents an enormous range of prehistoric creatures, continent by continent, with scientifically accurate illustrations and just a touch of whimsy (creatures are occasionally drawn with accessories like neckerchiefs, hats and the odd bunch of flowers).
Children are introduced to the three stages of the Mesozoic Era, and the continental drift over time. Do remember that three- and four-year-olds may well know more about the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous time periods than you or I do, and can definitely handle this level of information.
This is an extra large book, and each spread is a beautiful, satisfying read. Children will come back to it regularly, from early years onwards.
From Moa to Dinosaur, by Gillian Candler, illustrated by Ned Barraud
This fascinating and engaging factual picture book from the Explore and Discover team looks at the land that would become New Zealand, and takes us back in time, in several different leaps, to discover the creatures that used to live here.
It’s suitable for an international audience, and interesting to very young children, as well as having plenty of information for older ones. You can read it in one sitting, or dip in and out.
There are plenty of text boxes with extra information. My favourites are entitled ‘How do we know?’ and give clear, basic information on how the scientists figure out what things were like millions of years ago.
The Little Yellow Digger and the Bones, by Betty Gilderdale, illustrated by Alan Gilderdale
The Little Yellow Digger books are fun rhymers that tell real stories. This digger doesn’t have a name or personality – it’s just a piece of heavy equipment – but it does get to take part in all sorts of interesting jobs.
In this story, it’s part of discovering some dinosaur bones. We see the excavation work happen, and eventually, the driver even gets invited to the museum opening once the archaeologists have finished their work.
The rhyming story bounces along at a good pace, and this is suitable for very young children as well as older ones who will take more of the detail in.
Usborne Big Dinosaur Sticker Book, by Fiona Watt, illustrated by Vicky Barker
Sticker books are win-win for home use. Not only are they hugely appealing to most children, but they are excellent for developing fine motor control. Getting a sticker off a page and putting it where you want it takes a lot of skill for little hands!
Every sticker book will have its own strengths – some are structured as problem-solving puzzles where you find the sticker to go in the exact right spot, and some, like this one, give scope for creativity to create your own prehistoric scenes. Here we have lots of landscape spreads, ready to be filled by stickers arranged however you like.
See the illustrator’s website for images of the inside spreads.
Thalia Kehoe Rowden was a Playcentre kid before attending St John’s Hill Kindergarten in Whanganui, New Zealand. Some time later, she became a Baptist church minister, then a mother and a writer. She now lives with her husband and two small children in Wellington, New Zealand, and knows more about dinosaurs and astronomy than ever before. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and her parenting, spirituality and social justice website, Sacraparental.