Pros: everything a child ever wanted to know about dinosaurs
Cons: as a parent, be prepared to relearn a lot of things you thought you knew
I get more excited than my daughter when the Scholastic book order form comes home from preschool. I'm always figuring out how much my husband will let me spend on new books for the kids, and the assortment offered always has something perfect for each of the kids. This time, however, under the guise of ordering a book for my three-year-old son, Buster, I ordered a book that's probably more for me than for him, Scholastic Dinosaurs A-Z: The Ultimate Dinosaur Encyclopedia by Don Lessem and illustrated by Jan Sovak.
::: More Dinosaur Information Than You'll Ever Really Need :::
I have to admit that my dinosaur knowledge is sadly lacking, even in a three-year-old's eyes. Buster expects me to be able to identify all his plastic pals as well as any dinosaurs we might see in books or on television, as well as provide any pertinent facts about said dinosaur. I'm happy to report that, while my knowledge begins and ends pretty much with Tyrannosaurus rex, Scholastic Dinosaurs A-Z: The Ultimate Dinosaur Encyclopedia does all the work for me.
The book starts off with several short background sections. The usual introduction and foreword start things off, and then a brief section is devoted to explaining how the listings are organized before delving into the actual definition of a dinosaur. Every bit of background information is covered with sections When and Where Did Dinosaurs Live?, What Happened to the Dinosaurs?, How Are Dinosaurs Discovered?, and How Are Dinosaurs Named?. Additional information is given on the twenty-six different grouping used to classify dinosaurs, which each group given a sort of logo, which appears next to the listing of each type of dinosaur. A key is printed along the bottom of each two-page spread for easy reference.
The background information includes most basic information I can imagine children would need, including the different dinosaurs that appeared in each time period, and some great illustrations that give kids an idea of how large a dinosaur would be compared to their size.
After all the background information, every possible listing for dinosaurs appears on nearly 200 pages chock full of information. For "official" dinosaurs, you are given the name, a phonetic pronunciation, name meaning, classification, approximate length, time period it lived in, where evidence was found of its existence, what it is believed to have eaten, and then "details:" a section of factoids relating to the dinosaur. In most instances, an illustration accompanies the description that shows what the dinosaur looked like, but in some cases, only teeth or bones are shown. For "unofficial" names, referred to as "not a valid scientific name," a phonetic pronunciation is provided as well as a short fact about the dinosaur, and, where applicable, a reference to the actual scientific name.
Just when you thought your brain was going to explode from too much information, you come to the end of this section, and move onto Recent Discoveries, which is followed by an extensive glossary and resource guide, including other dinosaur books.
Of course, Scholastic Dinosaurs A-Z: The Ultimate Dinosaur Encyclopedia would be nothing without the illustrations, and I can't even begin to imagine the incredible amount of work it must have taken to illustrate this book. There are over 350 full-color illustrations in this book, many of which are full-page depictions of a dinosaur in its habitat. The smaller illustrations that accompany the dinosaur facts might be no more than a head view or depiction of bones or teeth, but they are just as detailed.
::: Mommy the Dinosaur Expert :::
Since the arrival of Scholastic Dinosaurs A-Z: The Ultimate Dinosaur Encyclopedia, I'm a Mommy Hero. Much of the dinosaur information, especially the background information, is presented in simple enough text for children to read, but has enough information that Mommy will sound like an expert. My daughter, whose pre-K class has been studying dinosaurs and fossils, was thrilled to get her hands on her "brother's" new book, and I was just happy to find out what on earth happened to that dinosaur I grew up thinking was called a brontosaurus! Since even the "not valid" names are included, I've been able to undo some of my apparently lacking natural history education.
Don Lessem has written over 20 books on dinosaurs for children, and his ability to get inside the head of a dinosaur-infatuated child really shows through. In his introduction, he reveals that Scholastic Dinosaurs A-Z: The Ultimate Dinosaur Encyclopedia is the book he would have loved as a child, and I can definitely see why. Buster isn't a huge book lover, but he's willing to spend 15 minutes at a clip (a lifetime in his limited attention-span world) leafing through the book, pointing at pictures, and asking questions. Finally! An opportunity to help him learn without fighting!
I was simply amazed at how intuitively both Lessem and Sovak knew what dinosaur fans seem to love. Buster was nearly beside himself with excitement when he found the full-page illustration of his two favorites - the T. rex and Triceratops - together in the same full-page illustration. I have a feeling we are going to be making a copy of that illustration for his bedroom wall at some point. My daughter, who is a bit more into the scientific aspect, was enthralled with the sections on how the dinosaurs became extinct, and especially the section on the recovery of bones and fossils, since they had just been doing their own "fossil hunting" in school.
I still have to admit that Mommy has spent the most time with Scholastic Dinosaurs A-Z: The Ultimate Dinosaur Encyclopedia, however. I find myself doing "homework" at night, hopefully learning enough to keep slightly ahead of my children's fascination.
Scholastic Dinosaurs A-Z: The Ultimate Dinosaur Encyclopedia is a must-have for any dinosaur-loving child, as well as any parent of a dinosaur-loving child who needs a brush-up on their dino-lore. The softcover edition is available exclusively through school ordering, but a hardcover version is available for purchase at the Scholastic Books Online Store at http://shop.scholastic.com.