It's official: Dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures are cool. The dinosaur-themed learning activities we have created are some of the kiddos' all-time favorites, and a quick search on Pinterest will verify that our kids are not alone in their dino-mania. Yet, for the Montessori-inspired homeschool teacher, prehistory presents a major challenge. Namely, with Montessori's emphasis on reality-based learning experiences and activities, how does one teach about creatures that have never been seen by anyone alive today? Yes, there are fossils, but most of what we "know" about dinosaurs is speculation. With some creativity, these concerns can be addressed pretty well, but the question of Montessori approved dinosaur books is not so easily answered, especially for younger children.
For this preschool-friendly book list, we wanted to emphasize titles that portray dinosaurs as authentically as possible. So, even with the Cat in the Hat title, or the poetry book, the content is fact-based (except of course for the talking cat). Coloration, stripes, etc. can be as wild as the artists's imagination allows, and the text can still be fact based. With that narrow, slightly confusing definition in mind, let's take a look at some our favorite prehistoric creature books for young children.
DK Readers L0: Meet the Dinosaurs is an early reader book, just right for the Pre-K level student. The text is simple but rewards readers who can sound out those long dinosaur names, using the phonetic guide provided on each page. The art here is done in a computer-generated style, giving the dinosaurs a life-like, 3-D look that pops off the page. The dinosaurs are set in appropriate settings to immerse the kids a little bit further into the prehistoric atmosphere as we imagine it. The purist who wants to present these creatures as realistically as possible might want to give this book a try first. The dinosaurs look alive without looking very aggressive or fearsome, another good thing for the youngest dino-fans in your classroom. This is a Pre-K Level 0 title.
Dinosaurs from National Geographic Kids is a great introduction to dinosaurs in general, or for an emerging reader who wants to take on some challenging vocabulary. Not as in-depth as the typical dino guide for kids, the emphasis here is on the text, accompanied by the usual gorgeously painted illustrations, and illuminating graphics that one can expect from National Geographic. The images here are more intense and the dinosaurs look more ferocious than they do in the DK book we mentioned above. So, take that as a warning, if you have sensitive kiddos. Please note, this is a Level 1 reader. Children with little interest in dinosaurs will be entertained enough to give it a few readings, but it might not hold the interest of more devoted dino-enthusiasts. The next book on the list is for them.
National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Dinosaurs (National Geographic Little Kids First Big Books) is a very long title for a pretty simple book. This volume strikes the perfect middle ground between the beginner reader volume listed above and the National Geographic Dinopedia we reviewed in another post. It targets the age 4-8 crowd, kids who have enough reading skills to sound out the species' names while soaking in all the amazing illustrations and incredible facts that seem to explode from every page. The author is Catherine Hughes, who has authored a number of titles aimed at this age group in the National Geographic catalog, so the writing is pitch perfect for the target audience. A very solid choice for the aspiring paleontologist in your home.
ABC Dinosaurs (AMNH ABC Board Books), published by the American Museum of Natural History, is deceptively simple, and very rewarding for readers who are comfortable with new terminology. This can be a hit or miss proposition for the long-time dino fan who may not be familiar with the newly identified species included here. These names are hard, but there is the phonetic spelling in big letters right next to the computer animated specimens, so again, an emerging reader can feel like a big shot reading these multi-syllable words. The factual content of this book is lacking, limited to just one sentence for each specimen. Yet, this one retains its value due to the language skills that can be practiced, from counting syllables to spelling or handwriting practice. This is a good choice for non-dino fans as well, since each specimen is presented individually, rather than stalking each other from page to page.
Dinosaur Bones by Bob Barner is a good place to start for the next few choices on this list. The theme here is creative attempts to present dinosaurs artistically while staying firmly in the non-fiction realm. While Dinosaur Bones may look simplistic or too fanciful for a true Montessori-inspired resource, there is actually a surprising amount of depth here. Plus, it can be enjoyed by kids on all levels of dinosaur interest and reading levels. There is a single line of poetry in big letters that weaves the pages together into a cohesive story, accompanied by a paragraph of factual info about the specimens on each page. There are some cool reference pages in the back, graphically presenting more facts and comparing sizes across species. The artwork is actually paper collage, which works incredibly well and displays Barner's considerable talent. Oh, and for the faint-hearted, these dinos are really cute.
Wings, Horns and Claws: A Dinosaur Book of Epic Proportions takes the prize for coming up with the most ingenious way of demonstrating the size of several prehistoric creatures relative to each other. Each page is done in linocut, a technique similar to wood engraving, in which the image is carved into linoleum and inked, then pressed onto the paper. While the reader is enjoying the exquisite details of each page, the real magic of the book is discovered. The tiny compsognathus (a dinosaur the size of a chicken) is on the first page, and appears on every page after that, becoming smaller and smaller as the book progresses, to show relative size differences. So, by the time you reach the argentinosurus towards the end, the little "compy" is barely visible on the page. This is so refreshing, especially in contrast to the mountains of dinosaur books that try to demonstrate relative size by placing dinosaurs in modern settings. This title may be hard to find (it's only available through third parties on Amazon right now) but make sure to grab it if it becomes available.
Prehistoric Actual Size is one of the kiddos' favorites around the house right now. The reason is simple: Steve Jenkin's incredible art. Jenkins works with cut and torn paper to create the masterpieces that are on full display on each page of this book, creating a stunning visual effect. Rather than shrink the animals to fit the page, each specimen is presented in actual size, so when it comes to the 45-foot tall giganotosaurus, you get two rows full of very sharp teeth splashed across two pages. Plus each dinosaur can be seen in full (not to scale) in the back of the book. The use of color and texture here is superb, making this book a great source of inspiration for your kiddos' next art project. Jenkins has provided artwork for dozens of children's titles. Keep an eye out for his books. You'll know them when you see them.
Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings is a fun title by another one of our favorite artists, Douglas Florian. We have featured Florian's work in previous book lists, so the kiddos are already familiar with his charming, humorous mixed-media paintings that fill up every inch of space, page after page. The poems are great too. They use simple rhyme schemes, some clever word play, and they are just plain funny, making them easy to memorize and recite. Poetry is a feature of the Montessori method that can be overlooked, which is unfortunate, since poems fuse language and art in a way that is unrivaled by any other method. Douglas Florian's work is accessible for young children and lots of fun. What could be better than that?
Oh Say Can You Say Di-no-saur? (Cat in the Hat's Learning Library) might seem like a stretch to include in a list of non-fiction books about dinosaurs. Yet, if you set aside the presence of a talking cat as a narrator (and, the, um, "catinthehatosaurus") the text sticks to the facts and is just as informative and intriguing as any of the other titles we have reviewed so far. Bonnie Worth and Steve Haefele capture the voice and whimsical energy of Dr. Seuss in the text and illustrations. However, the main reason we included this title comes down to one irrefutable fact: for some kids, dinosaurs are just too scary. So, for those tender-hearted souls, what could be less threatening than a Cat in the Hat guided tour through pre-history? This book is proof that learning about dinosaurs doesn't have to be scary.
Dino-Dinners: Packed with dinosaur facts! is for the young dino-fan on the opposite end of the spectrum from The Cat in the Hat, when it comes to dinosaur scares. Do you know someone who is fascinated with prehistoric predators, and their eating/hunting habits? Well do we have the book for you! The dinosaurs in these vibrant, splashy pages are fierce. The plant eaters also have their place here, not just as prey items, but the focus with them is on their eating and, um, elimination habits. Yes, dinosaur poop is definitely a topic of much consideration in this title, again, making it absolutely disgusting to some readers, while being the clear favorite of the bunch for others (yes, we have one big fan among our kiddos). If anything, this book emphasizes that dinosaurs were indeed real creatures, and their life was not easy. It was a dino-eat-dino world out there, a lesson that has it's place in any study of nature and animal life. Although not for everyone, Dino-Dinners earns it's keep on our list.
As we mentioned above, artists and authors can use their imaginations in ways that just aren't possible when it comes to other natural subjects. We all know what a lion looks like, so the artist is somewhat limited in coming up with exciting ways to depict one. Dinosaurs capture the imagination of adults just as much as they do with children, and as you can see, the artwork they inspire can be truly stunning and beautiful. Let your kiddos' imaginations soar, while still being grounded in the best science of the times, and explore prehistory with them, joined by the most incredible animals that ever walked the Earth. Natural history is fun.
For more advanced children's books about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures read the post below.
If you're looking for Montessori-inspired dinosaur themed gifts and resources for children, be sure to take a look at the products recommended in this post.
For dinosaur activities and printables, be sure to visit the unit study posts below!