National Non-Fiction Day: How to be a dinosaur hunter

posted in: James Gulliver Hancock, Scott Forbes | 4

Things have been fairly quiet on the blog front recently because I’ve been very busy getting all the last pieces in place for the Festival of Children’s Literature I’ve organised, which is taking place this Saturday in Birmingham. But I couldn’t let (the UK’s) National Non-Fiction Day go unmarked, especially as I’m hoping to spend much more time exploring remarkable non-fiction for kids in the new year.

dinohunterAnd the book I’ve chosen is indeed one worth remarking upon. It takes a well-worn topic but approaches it in a novel, exciting and tantalising way.

How to be a Dinosaur Hunter by Scott Forbes, illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock mixes the delights of a practical handbook with a choose-your-own-adventure story to create a book that says to you, to your child, YES! You, YOU could be a palaeontologist: There are stretches of dinosaur history waiting to be discovered, gaps in the grown-up’s knowledge, which you could fill in.

Bang up to date, including news from earlier this year, brimming with facts, many new and surprising to both me and my kids even though we consider ourselves pretty keen on fossils and dinosaurs, there are many things to love about this book.

It’s got great geographical coverage; there are chapters for dinosaurs discovered on each of the modern land masses, so we learn about differences (and similarities) in North America vs Australia, Europe vs Asia, South America vs Antarctica.

Interspersed between chapters focussing on geography, there are chapters based around the main geological periods in which dinosaurs lived. Thus we learn about the different types of dinosaurs to be found in the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous, how the climate and flora varied.

Packed with practical tips about where to see dinosaur fossils in museums, and also where to dig for dinosaurs and what equipment might be useful, how to transport and display fossils, this book is all about showing what opportunities and possibilities there are for you to add to the world’s palaeontological knowledge. If your child didn’t open this book wanting to be a dinosaur hunter, by the time they finish it, I’m confident it will be very high up their preferred career choices. It may even get a parent or two enrolling on Dino101!


The content is rich, the style of writing is engaging and eye opening, and the illustrations are just a perfect match. They wouldn’t look out of place in a comic strip or a graphic novel, further enticing young readers to keep turning the pages. At over 150 pages long (pages which are just as much fun to dip in and out of as to read from cover to cover) you get a lot of dinos for your dough. Very Highly Recommended!

Inspired by How to be a Dinosaur Hunter we decided to create a miniature dino time-line, to explore how the dinosaurs we keep as pets under the kids’ beds are spread through geological time.

We got out all our plastic dinos, identified them (where possible), and then looked up which period they lived in, using both this useful mini site from the Natural History Museum, and also our favourite dino catalogue, The World Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Creatures by Dougal Dixon (not specifically a children’s book, but nevertheless child friendly).

We filled a very large tray with sand, and labelled three areas according to the main geological periods when dinosaurs were about. Then it was simply a case of putting the right dino in the right period of prehistory.


In the form of a black balloon with crepe paper fire trails, M added a meteor about to crash into the end of the Cretacous period.


We embellished the landscape with a few small cacti.


In amongst our plastic animals we found an outlier – not actually a dinosaur, but an early mammal relative, a Dimetrodon. As Dimetrodtons lived around 40 million years before the appearance of the first dinosaur we put him on a plank reaching back from the Triassic period!


We soon discovered that our dino collection is very heavily biased towards the Cretaceous, with only a few Jurassic, and one Triassic creature, though again this one is technically not a dino, but another early mammal relative, a Lystosaurus.


We really had a lot of fun with our timeline, and learned a lot about how most toy dinosaurs are fantasy dinosaurs, and those which are identifiable are generally North American Cretaceous creatures.


Whilst creating our dino time line we listened to:

  • The Dinosaur Song by Johnny Cash… yes THE Johnny Cash
  • Dinosaurs by The Whizpops (listen here for free)
  • Dinosaur by The Baby Grands
  • Other brilliant activities to try alongside How to be a Dinosaur Hunter include:

  • Making your own fossils
  • Playing with lava by building your own volcano – perfect for the end of the dinosaurs!
  • Laying dinosaur eggs. Here’s how we did it for dragon eggs, but these could easily be re-imagined as dino eggs.

  • Teachers may want to check out the Teacher Pack which has been produced by Lonely Planet to go with this book, and others in the same series.

    Dinosaurs truly have timeless appeal. What’s your favourite non-fiction book about dinosaurs?

    Disclosure: I received a free copy of How to be a Dinosaur Hunter from the publisher, but on the basis of this book I will be spending my own money on other books in the same series!

    Some joker’s late addition to our timeline:

    "This way to extincsion" [sic]
    “This way to extincsion” [sic]

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