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Monster Stones is part of a series I have recently discovered called "Science Works". This is a very large series of books, apparently all written by Jacqui Bailey and illustrated by Mathew Lilly. These books are all meant to make science easily understood by very young children with a target audience of ages 3-6. Some of the subjects covered by this series include how gravity works, electricity, the water cycle, evolution, and of course the formation of fossils.
This may seem a bit young to be teaching children about such complex subjects, but I believe the best time to introduce these subjects is when the child asks about them. Children have a natural and limitless curiosity and a drive to learn - and I do feel children learn so much more when it is a topic that interests them. My youngest child thankfully missed starting P1 this year by only a month, as he recently turned 4. I do not believe in a formal curriculum for nursery school age children - but I do like to satisfy his curiosity when he expresses a desire to find out more. My youngest often sits in on his older brothers lessons, and has gone completely dinosaur mad at the moment. He is always asking questions about fossils, and while I'm sure he does learn something from his brothers books - i thought it was time to get him a few books of his own on the topic. We had read and liked another book by the same author "Down to Earth" - so i ordered this from Amazon.
At first glance, this book may appear too complex for a child of only 3. There is a lot of text, and a fair amount of scientific information. The author does not use very many scientific terms, instead relying on descriptions of the processes involved. Where scientific language is used, it is always explained in the text, so children will learn what a paleontologist is as they read this book, as well as the scientific name for dinosaur poo. Once I actually read this to my son, who was still 3 when we purchased this book I realised that the story like presentation, and cartoon illustration, as well as the language used make this a book that a very young child will easily understand.
This book is told as the story of an dinosaur (Coelophysis) who falls from a cliff and breaks his back, dying slowly and certainly very painfully as the tide and silt begin to cover the dying creature. It is told as if he is still aware as the fish and sea creatures consume his flesh and millions of years pass with his bones gradually being replaced by chemicals in the water, creating the fossilised skeleton. He eventually dug up and put back together to become a museum piece.
The way this is told makes it very easy for children to understand all of the processes that take place, and the story aspect of it held my son's attention very easily. It did leave him feeling sorry for the poor dinosaur though, and I could see some children being very upset by the dinosaurs suffering. While my own son coped with it well enough, and I told him the dinosaur couldn't really feel anything once it was dead - this has never become a favourite story and I suspect it is because he doesn't like the dinosaur to die. I am not rating the book down for this, it is quite simply the facts of life, but each parent must judge for themselves if they feel their children are ready for a book like like this.
In rating this book, I am viewing it as an educational text, which is the purpose I believe it to have been written for. This book does do an extraordinary job of taking complex scientific information and presenting in such a way that children can very easily assimilate the facts. It is well written, well illustrated, and I will almost certainly buy other books from the same series. The series as a whole make science part of a child's everyday life - something I think is a very good idea. This book is perfect for home education, and I could see a teacher using this even with much older children to show how fossils are formed.
Although this has an upper age limit of 6 - I feel that older children could still learn from this as well, especially ones who have not read many paleontology books in the past. At age 7, I do believe my oldest has read far more on this topic than most children his age, - so I can't really say that he was able to learn a lot from this. Still we hadn't come across anything on the tar pits before this, so there was some new information. In addition, at age 7 he could see the humour in this more, and this provided a short easy to read text to supplement his more mature books on the subject. This book does not talk down to the reader - or engage in baby talk or any other tactic which would turn the older reader off. As a child with a specialist interest in paleontology - this isn't quite advanced enough for my oldest, but for children with more of a passing interest in the subject - or for parents and teachers just wanting to teach the basics for a science class - this book would be ideal.
The current price for this is £4.67 new and delivered from Amazon - which is considerably more than I paid for it - but I wait and watch for bargains on this type of book. I do feel this is still a very reasonable price, and even at full price this would represent value for money.