Pterosaurs, sweetcorn racing and zombie cockroaches: where great non-fiction can take you!

2014 sees the first crop of books by Red Shed (@RedShedBooks, Egmont‘s new dedicated non-fiction imprint for children and young people) hitting shelves across the UK. I Explore Digging for Dinosaurs and I Explore Under the Sea, both by written by Mike Goldsmith (@mj_goldsmith) and illustrated Kate Daubney (@kd_illustration) plus an advance copy of In One End and Out the Other, again written by Mike Goldsmith but illustrated by Richard Watson have given me reason to have high hopes for this imprint.


Digging for Dinosaurs and Under the Sea are the first two of four titles publishing this year in the ‘I Explore’ board book series. Each book takes readers on a mini adventure; they don’t just contain facts, but actually lead readers and listeners on a journey with a beginning and an end.

One clever device used is a teaser on the right hand edge of each double spread – a glimpse of what is coming next, with a focused question to get readers and listeners thinking. Page turns in (fiction) picture books are so important in creating drama, excitement and pace, and it is wonderful to see this being used in a non-fiction text too. A robust and large fold-out-flap at the end of each book creates a grand finale.

One of the right hand pages in I Explore Digging for Dinosaurs - note the question in the bottom right hand corner and the partial illustration of something which is revealed on the following page.
One of the right hand pages in I Explore Digging for Dinosaurs – note the question in the bottom right hand corner and the partial illustration of something which is revealed on the following page.

The illustrations are brightly coloured, featuring both boys and girls (hurrah for the female helicopter pilot and palaeontologist as well as the male scientist and digger driver) and not everyone is white (double hurrah!). As is to be expected, some of the vocabulary is a little specialist (I’m not sure I’ve ever read the words “humphead wrasse” before) but I think it’s great the books are not dumbed down and do included unusual and interesting words.

Whilst my kids are rather older than the target audience for the ‘I Explore’ titles (officially targeted at 2+), my five year old enjoyed them as books she could read herself (often board books do double up as great early reading material for kids learning to read themselves). The dino board book got both kids eager to play prehistoric animals so we set about making a flock of pterosaurs. Pterosaurs are NOT actually dinosaurs, but we had such fun with this activity that I really wanted to share it.

Click to download your pterosaur wing template!
Click to download your pterosaur wing template!
Inspired by this post from Kinderspiele Welt, we used washing line pegs and a new template I made up with multiple wing spans (you can download it here) to create our pterosaurs. We made two main types – an early one (like a Preondactylus or Eudimorphodon), with a tail, and a later one (like a Pterodactylus or Gnathosaurus), without the tail.


We used jewellery wire (very thin and easily bendable by little hands) to hang our flying prehistoric creatures from on high.



I rather like the fact that our kitchen is now home to a flock of pterasaurs. We just need to find a good collective noun for them – have you any suggestions?


Play inspired by the Red Shed books didn’t stop with our prehistoric flying reptiles. Next up, In One End and Out the Other (with over 50 flaps helping to provide answers to “What happens to poo when it leaves you?”) led us to have a sweetcorn race. Sounds innocuous. It IS innocuous. But if you think about the details too much you might feel a bit yucky.

Photo: Phil and Pam
Photo: Phil and Pam

So yes, how do you have a sweetcorn race? Well one evening you all have a bowl of sweetcorn for supper and then see how long it takes to emerge out the other end….

Photo: Sharon Mollerus
Photo: Sharon Mollerus

I hope you appreciate the tasteful photos I’ve found to illustrate our race. Without going into to much detail I can report back that we had one competitor who Did Not Start (the fussy eater) and one competitor who was disqualified (it turns out she had had sweetcorn the day before as part of her school lunch and hadn’t told us about this). The winning competitor’s sweetcorn travelled at a rate of approximately 57 cm an hour, whilst the silver medal winner’s sweetcorn travelled at a rate of about 18 cm an hour. How fast do you think sweetcorn would travel through YOU?!

deadoraliveWe’re definitely looking forward to Red Shed’s Dead or Alive? by Clive Gifford and Sarah Horne this summer. We’ve seen an extract of this book (with brilliant illustrations, a little like those by award winning Hannah Shaw) and it led us to finding out more about real life zombies. Just for fun, you too might enjoy this Ted Ed lesson from Carl Zimmer, or the video of the cockroach zombie on this page from National Geographic.

Whilst making our flock of pterosaurs we listened to:

  • Where Does It Go? by Maria Christensen & Jessica Harvey. You can listen to a free sample here on the Dangerous and Stinky website.
  • Dinosaur by We Kids Rock. You can listen to a free sample here.
  • I Am A Paleontologist by Here Comes Science

  • Books which get us “doing”, playing, investigating, and having fun are what we’re all about here on Playing by the book, and it’s great to find a crop of non-fiction books which have inspired us so much. What’s the last book that got your family off the sofa and playing or exploring?

    Disclosure: I received free review copies or advance excerpts of all the books mentioned today from the publisher.

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