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Six Seriously Science-y Dinosaur Books for Future Paleontologists

For the kid who knows her diplodocus from her cryolophosaurus.

Arrows pointing away from The Dinosaur Expert ("No Cutesy Dinos") and Brick by Brick Dinosaurs ("Build Your Own")
Photo illustration by Slate.

Once upon a time, a roaring red dinosaur bubble blower was delivered to a little girl in Texas by the Easter Bunny. She named him “Bob,” forgave him for only blowing bubbles about 12 percent of the time, and added him to her grand dinosaur stage productions.

There was just one detail about Bob she couldn’t accept. “He’s a triceratops,” she complained, “but he has big, sharp teeth like a meat-eater.”

She would revisit the inaccuracy many times, wondering why the person who made Bob would give an herbivore sharp teeth for tearing flesh. That’s when I knew we could no longer get away with any random dinosaur toy or book—our tiny paleontologist would demand scientific plausibility. Is this why Dinosaur Train had fallen out of favor in our house? Anthropomorphized, time-traveling dinos didn’t fit her fascination with the real, gritty, ferocious characters she had created in her mind.

Aptly, National Geographic’s Little Kids First Big Book of Dinosaurs was the first dinosaur book to join our home library. It contains gorgeous illustrations of recognizable favorites like triceratops, plus plenty of less-famous dinos like cryolophosaurus. (The book also has very handy pronunciation guides for tongue-tied parents.) Chapters are organized by dinosaur size, giving kids get a sense of how diverse the creatures were. Read all about where they lived and what they ate, or skip the details and dive into surreal illustrations to imagine what it was like to swim with a double-decker-size pentaceratops.

Little Kids First Big Book of Dinosaurs

Here are five more books for kids ages 4 to 9 who are really into dinosaurs and want just the facts, ROOOAARRRR! (Or honk or hoot, as the case may be.)

he Magnificent Book of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Creatures

The Magnificent Book of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Creatures

by Tom Jackson and Rudolf Farkas

This has the fantastic illustrations and trivia kids love, but the simple formatting will appeal to parents, too. I know encyclopedic science books can make for daunting bedtime reading, but this one is a breeze. I also like that it includes other prehistoric creatures to build further context for what Earth was like before humans.

Dinosaur Tracks

Dinosaur Tracks

by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld and Lucia Washburn

Ask kids how scientists learn about the lives of dinosaurs, and they will likely say “fossils!” While fossilized bones are the diamonds of paleontology, much of what we know about them comes from long tracks of preserved footprints. This book teaches young dinosaur hunters how footsteps were preserved millions of years ago, and what we can deduce from them now. If your child has this level of interest in dino detail, check out other books in the Stage 2 series—Did Dinosaurs Have Feathers? and Dinosaur Babies.

Inside Dinosaurs

Inside Dinosaurs

by Andra Serlin Abramson and Carl Mehling

What is it with kids and fold-out pages? This book, from the American Museum of Natural History, adeptly uses folding oversized pages to give the reader a sense of dinosaurs’ enormity and where the creatures fit in Earth’s 4-billion-year timeline. This book is written from the paleontologist’s perspective, taking readers along on the discovery process and inspiring further study. Kids will get an idea of how theories have changed and how much more there is to learn about dinosaurs.

Brick by Brick Dinosaurs

Brick by Brick Dinosaurs: More Than 15 Awesome Lego Brick Projects

by Warren Elsmore

How better to imagine and understand dinosaurs than to build them? Brick by Brick Dinosaurs sits perfectly at the intersection of my daughter’s dueling obsessions with dinosaurs and Lego bricks. I expected building instructions for the most popular dinosaurs, but this book goes so much further. Vivid brick models on photorealistic backgrounds give kids another way to connect the facts with the developing dinosaur worlds in their imaginations.

The Dinosaur Expert

The Dinosaur Expert

by Margaret McNamara and G. Brian Karas

The Dinosaur Expert is a rare narrative picture book in which the dinosaurs are not cutesy characters causing mayhem in implausible scenarios. Instead, the star of the book is a girl who knows everything about dinosaurs and gets to share that expertise with her class. “Can girls be paleontologists?” I groan that the question is still posed in a 2018 children’s book, but surely there are classrooms where such gender stereotypes persist. This book helps kids answer confidently: Yes, any kid with a passion for the topic can pursue that passion.

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