Newest Review: ... this book is that it helps children to expand their existing knowledge of dinosaurs. For those children who tend to think that all dinosa... more
Now, that's what I call a school trip!
The Magic School Bus in the Time of the Dinosaurs - Joanna Cole
Member Name: CarolineR-D
The Magic School Bus in the Time of the Dinosaurs - Joanna Cole
Advantages: Combines factual information with an engaging story
Disadvantages: Some illustrations may be a bit scary for younger readers
This is the sixth book in the Magic School Bus series. My daughter received it when she was in junior school and was totally mad about dinosaurs. It is a wonderful book for young readers as it combines an action-packed, time travel adventure with scientific and geographical information, presented in an easy-to-follow format.
The book can be enjoyed on different levels. On one level, children can simply enjoy the story, which is told in the main text. However, the conversation between the different characters, told in a cartoon style through speech bubbles, provides additional detail and enables the reader to get to know the individual characters a little better. For instance, when Ms Frizzle introduces her class to Jeff, the palaeontologist at the dig, Jeff says, "Valerie! I haven't seen you since High School" and the kids have a conversation about their teacher's private life, which adds a humorous touch. In addition to the story, you can read factual information in the margins of each page in the form of the children's schoolwork and homework, which looks as if it is written and drawn by hand. This means that the factual information is presented in small, bite sized chunks, so this is not too overwhelming to the reader.
What impressed me about this book is that it helps children to expand their existing knowledge of dinosaurs. For those children who tend to think that all dinosaurs are scary, as portrayed in the movies, the book looks at the many different kinds of dinosaurs, comparing the plant eaters and flesh eaters. In addition to the most well-known dinosaurs that a lot of children will already be familiar with, such as the stegosaurus and brontosaurus, the book introduces species of dinosaur that children may not be aware of such as plateosaur, coelophysis and seismosaurus.
The book provides an introduction into how palaeontologists work, showing the tools and equipment they use. All sorts of interesting questions are discussed. For example, where is the best place to look for dinosaur fossils? Are birds directly descended from dinosaurs? How were dinosaurs different to the reptiles we see today? Did dinosaurs live alone or did some of them live in herds? My daughter was particularly fascinated by the drawings of teeth from different dinosaurs, which show their actual size, so you can compare them. The tooth of the Tyrannosaurus Rex is particularly terrifying! She also enjoyed looking at the drawings of different kinds of dinosaur fossils.
In some respects it is misleading to talk about "The time of the Dinosaurs" because the Mesozoic Era, when dinosaurs lived, is split into different periods - Late Triassic (225 million years ago), Jurassic (213 million years ago), Cretaceous (144 million years ago) and Cenozoic (65 million years ago). The book makes it clear that the earth's structure and climate differed considerably between these periods, as did the types of dinosaurs that lived. As one of the pupils observes during the time travel adventure - "you let a couple of million years go by and look what happens." As the children and Ms Frizzle visit different time periods, they observe many different types of dinosaur. Their first stop takes them to the Late Triassic period where they see some early dinosaurs, which are small and light, very different to the giants they later meet in the Jurassic period. There is a very helpful timeline which starts from the present day and goes back to the Mesozoic Era and beyond. The use of different colours and clear illustrations makes this timeline easy to understand. My daughter was interested to see that a lot of animals existed long before the dinosaurs, such as insects, amphibians and fish.
The story contains some exciting moments but does not shy away from the harsh realities of nature. At one stage the children see an injured stegosaurus, which becomes 'dinner' for a hungry allosaurus. The accompanying illustration is rather bloody. I like the way the book tells it like it is, so that children understand that predators hunt for food, not because they are 'mean.' Some children might find the rather graphic illustration distressing though. The whole idea of a rickety old school bus turning into a time machine, makes this a wonderfully, wacky story. Ms Frizzle is a delightful character, so fearless and enthusiastic and I just love her frizzy red hair and flamboyant wardrobe. There is a lovely part of the book where a pack of Troodon appears and Ms Frizzle is totally unfazed. "I hope you are observing the Troodon," she says to her class, who are already making a hasty exit from the scene. There is also a dramatic moment when the class are just about to leave for home and they stop the bus to look at a bright light shining in the sky. Can they make it home before the asteroid hits earth? It's an inventive and dramatic way to teach children how the dinosaurs became extinct.
There is a plenty of humour in the book. We loved the way the palaeontologists are dressed in T-shirts with different slogans - 'I love bones', 'I love dirt' and 'I love rocks.' In the classroom the children's pictures of 'dinosaurs we'd like to see' are quite amusing, such as 'Bananasaurus Rex' and 'Frizzeratops' (the latter being a dinosaur with a Ms Frizzle hairdo.) The banter between the different kids and their little asides is fun to read because sometimes the kids seem wowed by the things they see on their unusual field trip, but other times they just take it all in their stride, as if it's perfectly normal to go out in the school bus and meet dinosaurs. When they discover that tyrannosaurs had the biggest teeth of all dinosaurs, one of the children remarks, "I feel sorry for the tooth fairy."
I would recommend this book as a great way to learn about dinosaurs, whilst enjoying an eventful, exciting story at the same time. It's rare for a book to provide such a good balance between education and entertainment and the author deserves credit for achieving that. The illustrations by Bruce Degen are colourful, atmospheric and detailed. There is a particularly lovely picture of the children standing next to a brontosaurus, which really gives you a sense of its size, as one kid prods its leg and says - "here are some interesting tree trunks."
The particular characteristics of the various dinosaurs are clear to see in the pictures, such as horns, claws, plates, spiky tails, long necks etc. My daughter used to love to draw dinosaurs and she found these pictures a helpful guide when she needed something to copy.
The book ticks all the politically correct boxes as it features a range of children from many different ethnic groups and is refreshingly free from gender stereotyping. Ms Frizzle in particular is a great role model who inspires her students and will no doubt inspire the readers too. Her passion for her subject and her sense of adventure makes her very likeable. Although this is a fantasy adventure and modern children know that they can't really go out and observe live dinosaurs on a field trip, the book does teach children about the importance of observing things in their natural environment wherever possible and to understand that reading things in books is only a small part of scientific enquiry.
The Magic School Bus in the Time of the Dinosaurs can be obtained used from Amazon sellers for £0.01.
Summary: A great choice for the young dinosaur fan