Paleontology for kids: Reviews of the best books and DVDs

© 2009 – 2015 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved

Looking for some books and DVDs about paleontology for kids? Here are some resources that I like — media that help children connect their interest in dinosaurs to big concepts in biology.

Cartoon overviews of the history of life on earth

For an introduction to vertebrate life before and after the emergence of dinosaurs, I recommend three books by cartoonist/writer Hannah Bonner, now sold together in a single volume:

opens in a new windowWhen Fish Got Feet, When Bugs Were Big, and When Dinos Dawned: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life on Earth (National Geographic Kids)

As the titles suggest, Bonner presents her material in the form of comic books.

Bonner’s work is fun to read and reminds me of Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History of the Universe.

The publisher recommends these books for kids aged 9-12, but I suspect many motivated, younger kids will enjoy the books, too. The books can also serve as primers for college students.

Dinosaurs and other creatures of the Mesozoic


If you’ve watched dinosaur documentaries on TV, you are likely familiar with the sight of Dr. Bob Bakker in his worn-out straw hat.

Happily, this colorful and entertaining paleontologist has written several books for kids, including opens in a new windowRaptor Pack (Step-into-Reading, Step 5)

They are inspiring reads for students in the early grades of elementary school. I’m especially fond of the raptor book, which begins with a reconstruction of a “day in the life” and goes on to explain how the fossil evidence supports this reconstruction.

Other authors to look for are Dougal Dixon and Don Lessem.

Dixon’s book, opens in a new windowThe Complete Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Dinosaurs & Prehistoric Creatures: The Ultimate Illustrated Reference Guide to 1000 Dinosaurs and Prehistoric … Commissioned Artworks, Maps and Photographs is a little dated, but a good overview for enthusiastic children.

Many of Don Lessem’s books have also gone out of print, which is shame. He puts extinct animals in ecological context; discusses traits in terms of their adaptive function; and explains what evidence paleontologists use to reach their conclusions.

But some books are available, including the opens in a new windowNational Geographic Kids Ultimate Dinopedia, Second Edition

Finally, there are the marine reptiles of the Mesozoic. For recommendations about them, see my page about opens in a new window“sea monsters” of the past.


Nigel Marven DVDs

The charismatic naturalist and TV host Nigel Marven has starred in several paleontological wildlife “documentaries,” series in which Marven travels through time and meets a variety of prehistoric creatures.

The special effects are good, and Marven, who usually has hosted wildlife shows, is a surprisingly convincing actor.

I highly recommend the DVD, opens in a new windowChased by Dinosaurs, which actually includes both the original Chased by Dinosaurs series, as well as Chased by Sea Monsters. I also recommend the Marven paleontology series on DVD, opens in a new windowPrehistoric Park (2013).

I like Prehistoric Park a bit less than I like the earlier Chased by Dinosaurs series. Chased by Dinosaurs seems more spontaneous and fun. Prehistoric Park feels more scripted. Also, the mammals (mammoths and sabertooths) in Prehistoric Park aren’t as convincing as the dinosaurs. Nonetheless, Prehistoric Park is a lot of fun and well worth viewing.

For the aspiring paleontologist

If you missed it, Nova’s The Four Winged Dinosaur is an outstanding 56-minute documentary about the way that paleontologists work to reconstruct the behavior of dinosaurs.

Spectacular fossils show that the pigeon-sized Microraptor had something resembling wings on both its arms and legs. Did this dinosaur fly? How can we know? And what does Microraptor imply about the evolution of birds?

The show interviews several key players, including the young Chinese scientist who discovered Microraptor. He suggests his own theories, and gets to put these theories to the test in a wind tunnel experiment with some of his American colleagues. I’ve seen this show twice, and suspect it will inspire older kids who are interested in pursuing a career in paleontology.

Life on earth: General guides to paleontology

As I note on my page about teaching paleontology to kids, the book, opens in a new windowEvolving Planet: Four Billion Years of Life on Earth stands out as an especially effective introduction to earth history and natural selection for kids in the 9-12 age range.

Content last modified 8/13