Between the lines: children of all ages love to read about dinosaurs
My daughters and I joined a dozen of their friends on a visit to the Legends of the Giant Dinosaurs exhibition at the Hong Kong Science Museum during the last school holidays. Our expectations were low but, to our surprise, it was a world-class educational experience that kept the group entertained for an entire morning.
There were robotic dinosaurs and a "petting zoo" where the children took turns prodding a stick at an animated Agilisaurus that responded with short forward lunges, swishing its tail or baring its teeth.
The reconstruction of a fossil dig showed the important work done by palaeontologists. Scattered throughout were interactive games and electronic presentations designed to appeal to tech-savvy children.
Dozens of dinosaur fossils, including a replica of the 30-metre-long Daxiatitan that was discovered on the mainland, made up the finale.
Shaheen Bilgrami's Amazing Dinosaur Discovery is the perfect book to prepare ahead of this outing. It tells the story of Tom, a boy who loves dinosaurs, visiting a museum with his father. The book is arranged with the left-hand side showing pages from Tom's scrapbook to provide readers with trivia about each dinosaur.
The dinosaur fossils are on the right-hand pages, with clever acetate sliding panels. Pull out the panel and the fossilised bones are transformed into a full-colour creature from 100 million years ago in its natural environment.
"Bones. Bones. We look for bones. We look for the bones of dinosaurs." The work of palaeontologists is simply explained in Byron Barton's Bones, Bones, Dinosaur Bones.
Progressing from setting out to dig for bones, to wrapping and packing them for assembly at the museum, this picture book uses bold colours to help young children learn about dinosaurs as well as the fossils they see at museums.
One consistent factor about dinosaur books is that no matter the genre, whether fiction such as Jane Yolen's How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? or a non-fiction resource book such as Bob Barner's Dinosaur Bones, they all come with a back page containing an illustrated list of dinosaur names.
This doesn't happen with other animals. Picture books about birds, butterflies and bears rarely include an introduction to the different members of their species.
The exception to this dinosaur book phenomenon is Dinosaur! by Peter Sis. Why? Because it is a wordless picture book. The clean line drawings show the delightful experience of one boy's bath time when he takes his dinosaur bath toy into the tub with him.
Children seem to love learning the names of dinosaurs, and this point has not been lost on book publishers.
As I re-acquaint myself with those wonderfully multi-syllabic dinosaur names, my mind returns to Land of the Lost, the 1970s television series that was the genesis of my fascination with dinosaurs, and provoked my interest in science fiction and time travel.
Another indication of my old age is discovering that the large dinosaur that used to be called a Brontosaurus is now known as an Apatosaurus.
Legends of the Giant Dinosaurs, Hong Kong Science Museum, TST East until Apr 9