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My son ( age 7) is studying to become a paleontologist. Now I know perfectly well he is apt to change his mind a dozen times before adulthood, and even now he has periods of leaning toward the military as well, but one of the fun things about home educating is he does get to choose some of his subjects to study. Whether he ends up studying paleontology as an adult or not, there is still a lot he can learn from this now and I believe children do retain so much more of what they learn if it is a subject that interests them.
There are thousands and thousands of dinosaur books for children, but there are honestly are not very many specifically on paleontology. This book is not really about dinosaurs. it is about the science and history of the study of dinosaurs. This book tells us what fossils are, what a paleontologist does and how they do it. It begins by telling us of ancient Chinese discoveries of what they believed were dragon bones. Next it tells us about the discoveries of Nicolaus Steno in the 1660's, and his theories on sedimentation which actually proved quite accurate. Poor Steno was a bit of a laughingstock at the time though with silly ideas like fossils being the remains of extinct creatures. His contemporary Robert Plot discovered a dinosaur thigh bone, but rather than come up with stories of extinct creatures, it was scientifically explained as the leg bone of a human giant. My son was giggling as he read this, but it goes to show science has come a long way, but even now, much of it is not written in stone, but fluid and changing as more facts are discovered. In the 1800's all that began to change as scientists began to accept the possibility of dinosaurs. There is a section on Mary Anning and a couple of pages on Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh - two rival American dinosaur hunters famous for their long run dispute which newspapers called "The Bone Wars".
The rest of the book focuses on modern day paleontology. It explains how Paleontologists study the changes in rock layers to see how the earth has changed over time. It tells us that fossil evidence shows that plants existed on land well before animals, but this makes sense anyway - the animals would need something to eat. The book explains that scientists have divided time into three eras Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic, but does not discuss any further divisions such as Precambrian, Silurian or Triassic. It tells us that there was mass extinction at the end of the Paleozoic - but no information is given that is specific to this mass extinction. My son was dissapointed that it did not tell more about this, But I'm fairly sure they don't know for sure what caused the Paleozoic Mass extinction. The book does say that most scientists believe the mass extinction of the Mesozoic era was caused by a meteorite. Mention is made that there have been at least 5 mass extinctions - an idea my son didn't seem to like very much. What if there is a 6th? I can't say that I didn't think of that one myself, but of course I reassured him they were all millions and millions of years ago - when the earth was young. nothing like that ever happens now. I left the "at least I hope not" part off. My four year old was even more concerned by the Mesozoic extinction. He has asked if it could happen again. I hope all parents lie and I am not the only one. I tell him of course not - if a meteor like the one that caused the Mesozoic extinction hit now, we could send a bomb to blow it to bits.
This book also describes the discovery of the longest known Rayonnoceras - which was made by students who were hunting fossils. The girl pictured looks very young - perhaps 16. I think it is nice for children to see that this is a field where children rally do stand a chance of making discoveries. The book shows some of the tools paleontologists use and how they go about their work, as well as how one discovery will have an impact on other areas of study as well.
I was really impressed by this book. With only 48 pages, it contains a massive amount of information. It is printed on a good quality gloss paper and well illustrated with colour photographs. The print is large and well spaced, almost always in black ink on a white or pastel background, although there are a couple of pages with white print. There is no print over pictures with confusing background. I am at a loss on how to place this at any particular reading level. Most of the text is quite easy for a child to read, but there are many large words specific to paleontology/ dinosaurs such as "paleozoic" and " Hylaeosaurus". Theer are also a few words which a very young child may be unfamiliar with such as "preparators" and "diversified". Thankfully there is a glossary in the back because while I could easily explain diversified to my son - I didn't know what a preparator was myself before reading this book - but we were able to get a fair guess at the meaning by the context of sentence.
Of course this is a child's book - so what really matters is what my son thought. My 7 year old did find this interesting and it certainly did encourage questions. He enjoyed this more than most school books, but not quite as much as some of the wonderful books we have with full colour pictures of dinosaurs like those made for television films such as walking with dinosaurs. His very favourite books on dinosaurs are a series of pop up books and DK's Dinosaur Encyclopedia. But this is still a book he enjoyed, and it was ever so much more fun than a standard science textbook. He is quite keen to go fossil hunting so this book did give him some ideas. I am very well pleased with my purchase and expect this to be used a number of times as we go fossil hunting or learn more about paleontology. My four year old, on the other hand is crazy about dinosaurs but not terribly interested in this book.
I would recommend this book very strongly for schools and home educators. I feel that children can learn a lot about science in general from this book, and it is a good way to keep science fun. For average families - I would only recommend this if the child has more than a passing interest in dinosaurs. Most very young children are going to prefer more about the dinosaurs themselves with full colour illustrations than about the rocks and dirt end of the field. I would suggest starting with a good number of more general dinosaur books and only buying this if the child expresses a genuine interest in learning more about what paleontologists actually do. If your child is fascinated by rocks and fossils and says they want to be a paleontologist when they grow up - then I really can not recommend this book strongly enough. If your child watches Jurassic Park and points out all of the mistakes the film maker made - then this book is for them. It is a well written and well illustrated book at a very fair price ( £4.37 new and delivered from Amazon in paperback). But if your child is just going through the average dinosaur phase - a less specialised book would likely be a better bet.
Finally- I would offer the warning that very young children may be disturbed by the thought that almost all life on earth has been wiped out at least 5 times. It is very easy, and probably even a natural conclusion to speculate if it has happened 5 times before - could it happen again? I could certainly see this causing a few nightmares.