The Very Best Books About: Dinosaurs

Almost every kid has a “thing”; some topic or other that he/she is laser-focused on pretending, reading, watching, hearing, or talking (and talking and talking) about.

My youngest is very much about dinosaurs right now.

I blame this guy:

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What do you think, Brett? Uh, gosh, I don’t know Chad…how about a show about dinosaurs? And also trains? And time travel? Great idea, it’ll be a huge success.

Despite The Conductor‘s offensively goofy voice, I’ll be damned if my child has not absorbed an absurd amount of paleontology from this show. At this point, if my child says something about the characteristics of sauropods or shares a fact about what a pachycephalosaurus eats…I pretty much just assume he’s right.

Dr. Scott looks like a stock photo search result for “Canadian paleontologist who does research in Utah.”

Dr. Scott the Paleontologist has the dinosaur facts pretty much handled, so the only question Dr. V. the Humanist needs to answer is: which of the bazillions of books about dinosaurs are most likely to satisfy my weirdo dino-obsessed kid’s need for a steady stream of dinosaur facts without making me want to gouge my eyeballs out in boredom and despair?

The best dinosaur books have a few things in common. For one, they are as accurate as possible. If a dinosaur book lists “Pterodactyl” as a dinosaur, give it a miss. Though a casual reader might not be confused by it, a kid who’s really into dinosaurs will spot that for the BS that it is (and let you know about it); plus, it’s a good indication that whoever put the book together was being kinda lazy, and thinking “how about dinosaurs? Kids like dinosaurs, right? Dinosaurs are cool?” and maybe not taking their audience as seriously as they ought.

Secondly, illustrations are paramount. Realistic and honest, but not nightmare-inducing, is a surprisingly difficult balance to strike.  Plus, because paleontologists aren’t in universal agreement with what any one dinosaur looked like, illustrators also have to balance their audience’s canonical expectations with their own interpretations of the available data. Children’s dinosaur-book illustrators may be the only real rock stars we have left. (<–reasonable opinion)

And finally, all the standard rules of non-boring children’s nonfiction apply here, as well: not too long, not too short, engaging but straightforward, etc.

With those standards in mind, here are Dr. V’s top 3 books about dinosaurs:

51fln3iqg6l3. The Big Book of Dinosaurs. Discovery Kids, 2015.

Less scary than the cover would lead one to believe, this one is great if you don’t actually feel like reading. Pages and pages of pictures of dinosaurs, and their names, and that’s it. Diverting, low-maintanence, great. My only wish is that it included more full-size pictures of dinosaurs; most of the images are portraits of their heads. Still, it gives the book almost a baseball-card sort of efficiency.




53eff90a-1961-4cdc-925a-eee512fde49d_1-4710b1281c2a2164af101a634cec6f572. Little Kids First Big Book of Dinosaurs, by Catherine D. Hughes and Franco Tempesta (illust.). National Geographic Society, 2011.

It’s from National Geographic, so of course the illustrations are on point, filling multiple pages with close-ups and full body shots that have a photojournalistic feel. Grouping the dinosaurs by size is clever as well; seeing how they match up to one another, as well as how they measure against the scale of an average human, offers interesting perspective.

The book also highlights a unique fact about each dinosaur to help kids remember the different types, which can be fun and handy.



97815157279271. The Dinosaur Fact Dig books, by Kathryn Clay—-especially Triceratops and Other Horned Dinosaurs: The Need-to-Know Facts and Stegosaurus and Other Plated Dinosaurs: The Need-to-Know Facts. Capstone, since 2016.

I cannot explain how much I love these books. They hit on all of the high points of the Little Kids First Big Book, but they’re broken down into smaller volumes, which helps ensure that your kid doesn’t respond to your “let’s read a book” by putting a five-pound tome in front of you right before bedtime. The tone of these books is also much more conversational, though still mercifully brief, which makes these the easiest dinosaur books I’ve ever found to read 9781515727910aloud—-the captions are there, but if you don’t feel like reading them the book can have a more narrativized feel, too. The way they group dinosaurs by type helps the little ones make distinctions between the smaller details. Not every dinosaur with a frill is necessarily a triceratops, for example, and having them all side-by-side is a great teaching tool—-for learning the dinosaurs, specifically, I suppose, but also for the skill of distinguishing superficially similar things in general.

Seriously: these are THE BEST. Go to your library and request one!


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