Everyone at our house loves dinosaurs. Over the years, this book has come in handy when the kids have been doing school project work or simply going through a dinosaur craze, but it has also been enjoyed by me on many occasions. Although I do have an interest in the subject, I have neither the time nor the inclination for in-depth study, so browsing through a picture book is a great way to pick up information on this endlessly fascinating subject in a leisurely way.
In my view, all the best dinosaur books have excellent illustrations, and this DK Guide fits that requirement perfectly. It is visually stunning. The illustrations combine photographs of 3D models with colourful artwork. Dinosaurs are depicted in a variety of settings, such as forests, swamps and deserts. We also encounter flying reptiles in the sky and marine reptiles under the sea. Not only do these detailed pictures educate us, but they also inspire a sense of awe as we look at these amazing creatures. This is what makes me keep turning the pages. Far from being a mere text book, the author has injected a high degree of drama and excitement into the subject.
Perhaps our favourite picture of all recreates what it would look like if a few dinosaurs decided to take a stroll down a New York street. You can see a long-necked barosaurus towering amongst the sky scrapers. At the other end of the scale, there is a compsognathus, which is only the size of a turkey, pictured sitting on the bonnet of a yellow taxi. This illustration gives a wonderful sense of perspective and makes readers appreciate the wide range of sizes of the dinosaurs. Some people tend to wrongly assume that all dinosaurs were massive.
Each section is presented in the form of a 2-page spread of information. There is a good balance between text and images. Perhaps some people would think the pages look a bit 'busy' with so much information scattered around. If you are used to books which have a more linear presentation, this may take some getting used to as you don't know what order you should read things in and can find your eyes jumping all over the place. However, I feel that this method of presentation generally finds favour with children, particularly those with shorter attention spans who don't want to have to trawl through several pages to acquire information.
Each 2-page spread has a focal point, a main picture with small snippets of information around it, so there is going to be something that leaps out at the reader straightaway, something that catches their attention, even if they don't want to read everything on the spread. I feel that this offers a more relaxed approach to learning.
What is great about this book is that you can learn a lot from the pictures alone, although the additional information in the form of sidebars and timelines will expand on the subject. The pictures are so clear that you can make out all the fine detail. As you look at a picture of a gigantosaurus, you almost think that if you touched its skin you would be able to feel its scaly, bumpy texture. Its powerful jaws, clawed fingers and toes, long tail and terrifying teeth can all be observed up close. It's enough to give you goose bumps!
I appreciate the way the author explains dinosaur behaviour and physiology by making comparisons with modern animals. For example, there are opportunities to spot the similarities between birds and dinosaurs. The author also discusses the reasons modern animals migrate and considers whether dinosaurs would have migrated for the same reasons. With the aid of a beautiful picture of 2 male pentaceratops, battling for supremacy, a comparison is made with the mating rituals of modern animals. Just as a peacock spreads its tail to impress a female, could the huge frill around the head of the pentaceratops also be designed to attract a mate? The author also contemplates whether the two pentaceratops would lock horns and wrestle like rutting deer. I like the way the author helps us to appreciate the physical features of a dinosaur by comparing it to a modern animal. For instance, the brachiosaurus with its long neck is said to resemble, "an immense giraffe" and the herd-dwelling hardosaurs are compared to cows.
The book explains the three phases of the Mesozoic Age - Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous -in a comprehensible way, providing interesting diagrams to compare the earth as it is now to what it was like in prehistoric times, showing how the continents, which were all joined together, drifted apart over millions of years. I think that when we talk about 'The Time of the Dinosaurs' it can be misleading to children, because they don't always appreciate that different types of dinosaurs lived at different periods of the Mesozoic Age, separated by millions of years. This part of the book brings home just how long the reign of the dinosaurs lasted - 165 million years. It points out that modern humans have only been around for about 100,000 years, which helps put things into context.
If your child is interested in fossils, this book will explain how they are formed and what they can teach you about dinosaurs. My daughter was fascinated by the fossils of a velociraptor and a protoceratops that had died in battle over 70 million years ago. They had been smothered by a sandstorm before they could conclude their fight, so their fossils reveal some intriguing detail as to their fighting technique. However, my daughter was even more impressed by reference to a fossilised dinosaur dropping (probably from a tyrannosaurus) which weighed as much as a 6-month old child!
Although this book makes reference to 'old favourites' of the dinosaur world, such as the T-Rex and velociraptor, it also teaches you about creatures you may be less familiar with. For example, there is a spread devoted to a flying reptile called a dimorphodon, which I certainly hadn't heard of. I hadn't heard of a gigantosarus either, which sounded like a made-up name at first, but is the biggest predator - bigger than the more well-known tyrannosaurus.
At the back of the book there is a section on Dino Data. This lists the names of the different creatures referred to in the book. Helpfully, it gives the pronunciation of the name and its meaning. My daughter enjoyed reading the name meanings. Some were dramatic -- for example, 'Troodon' meaning 'piercing tooth' - some were quite amusing - 'Gallimimus' meaning 'chicken mimic' - and others were deceptively cute - 'Compsognathus' meaning 'pretty jaw.' In this section of the book you can also find stats on the biggest, smallest, fastest dinosaurs etc. There is a useful glossary of terms and a list of websites is also provided.
Overall, I found this an excellent reference book, but one criticism I would make is that the writing style is rather serious and 'scholarly' in tone. At times the author uses rather complex language, which I doubt would be understood by most junior school age children. For instance, he refers to an "evolutionary dead-end" at one point and an "evolutionary arms race", without first explaining what is meant by evolution. To be fair, the word 'evolution' can be looked up in the glossary, but I did feel that the author was taking for granted the reader's prior-knowledge. I think children would need to be at least 10 before they were able to start taking in the detail of the book, although younger children may still enjoy looking at the pictures.
The index at the back is helpful for school project work as you can go straight to the topic that interests you. For example, you can look up 'plant eaters' or 'flesh eaters' or the name of a specific dinosaur, and then go and check out the book's references to those subjects. However, younger children who haven't really got the hang of using an index and just want to read a book rather than research from it, might not find this as user-friendly as it could be.
As a family resource on dinosaurs, this is well worth adding to your collection. It is probably a good one to look at with a child, so you can help them with anything they don't understand. David Lambert does a great job of bringing these majestic creatures back to life and inspiring you to learn about what made them tick. You can buy this book used for a mere £0.50 from Amazon, so it certainly isn't going to leave you out of pocket.