Paleontology for kids:

Reviews of the best books and DVDs

© 2009 - 2015 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved

Looking for some books and DVDs about paleontology for kids? Here are some resources that I like -- media that help children connect their interest in dinosaurs to big concepts in biology.

Cartoon overviews of the history of life on earth

For an introduction to vertebrate life before and after the emergence of dinosaurs, I recommend three books by cartoonist/writer Hannah Bonner:

When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange, and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life before Dinosaurs

When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long Before Dinosaurs.

When Dinos Dawned, Mammals Got Munched, and Pterosaurs Took Flight: A Cartoon PreHistory of Life in the Triassic.

As the titles suggest, Bonner presents her material in the form of comic books. I think the comic book format can be an extremely efficient way to teach—-particularly when it comes to historical subject matter (like earth history).

Bonner’s work--especially her Bugs book--is fun to read and reminds me of Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History of the Universe.

The publisher recommends these books for kids aged 9-12, but I suspect many motivated, younger kids will enjoy the books, too. The books can also serve as primers for college students.

Dinosaurs and other creatures of the Mesozoic

If you've watched dinosaur documentaries on TV, you are likely familiar with the sight of Dr. Bob Bakker in his worn-out straw hat.

Happily, this colorful and entertaining paleontologist has written several books for kids, including Dactyls! Dragons of the Air (Step into Reading)(2005) and Raptor Pack (Step into Reading) (2003). They are inspiring reads for students in the early grades of elementary school. I'm especially fond of the raptor book, which begins with a reconstruction of a "day in the life" and goes on to explain how the fossil evidence supports this reconstruction.

Other authors to look for are Dougal Dixon, Don Lessem, and Sneed B. Collard.

Dixon's Amazing Dinosaurs (2007) is an excellent, intellectual guide to dinosaurs for primary school kids, but it has gone out of print. His Ultimate Guide to Dinosaurs is easier to find.

Many of Don Lessem's books have also gone out of print, which is shame. He puts extinct animals in ecological context; discusses traits in terms of their adaptive function; and explains what evidence paleontologists use to reach their conclusions. But some books are available, including the National Geographic Kids Ultimate Dinopedia: The Most Complete Dinosaur Reference Ever , and his "Meet the Dinosaurs" series, a collection of 32-page picture books, like The Fastest Dinosaurs (Meet the Dinosaurs),which are available in ebook format for the Kindle. They are aimed at readers in the early primary school grades, and are consistently exciting and well-illustrated.

Finally, older kids interested in marine life during the Mesozoic may enjoy Sneed B. Collard’s excellent book Reign of the Sea Dragons. For other recommendations, see my page about "sea monsters" of the past.

Ice Age Mammals

Sabertooth by Patrick O’Brien (Henry Holt and company 2008) is one of the best picture books in print about paleontology for young children (ages 4 to 8). To read my full review, click on this link to Amazon's listing of Sabertooth.


Nigel Marven DVDs

The charismatic naturalist and TV host Nigel Marven has starred in several paleontological wildlife “documentaries," series in which Marven travels through time and meets a variety of prehistoric creatures.

The special effects are good, and Marven, who usually hosts “real" wildlife shows, is a surprisingly convincing actor.

I highly recommend Chased by Dinosaurs and Chased by Sea Monsters, two series you can find bundled together on a 150-minute DVD released in 2004.

I also recommend the more recent series Prehistoric Park , which is available in its entirety in a 2-DVD package that is 288 minutes long.

I like Prehistoric Park a bit less than I like the earlier Chased by Dinosaurs series. Chased by Dinosaurs seems more spontaneous and fun. Prehistoric Park feels more scripted. Also, the mammals (mammoths and sabertooths) in Prehistoric Park aren’t as convincing as the dinosaurs. Nonetheless, Prehistoric Park is a lot of fun and well worth viewing.

For the aspiring paleontologist

If you missed it, Nova’s The Four Winged Dinosaur is an outstanding 56-minute documentary about the way that paleontologists work to reconstruct the behavior of dinosaurs.

Spectacular fossils show that the pigeon-sized Microraptor had something resembling wings on both its arms and legs. Did this dinosaur fly? How can we know? And what does Microraptor imply about the evolution of birds?

The show interviews several key players, including the young Chinese scientist who discovered Microraptor. He suggests his own theories, and gets to put these theories to the test in a wind tunnel experiment with some of his American colleagues. I’ve seen this show twice, and suspect it will inspire older kids who are interested in pursuing a career in paleontology.

Life on earth: General guides to paleontology

As I note on my page about teaching paleontology to kids, the book Evolving Planet: Four Billion Years of Life on Earth(2008) stands out as an especially effective introduction to earth history and natural selection for kids in the 9-12 age range.

Content last modified 8/13

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