Children love books about dinosaurs and I have used many of them in the classroom over the years. But this one, based on exciting scientific evidence about feathered dinosaurs, stands out as one of the very best. It is structured by an information story which allows young readers to journey back into the Cretaceous period and to accompany a young Microraptor, Neffy, on the day when she takes her first flight. As well as the narrative, each double spread has information about the weight, size, diet, habitat and location of the dinosaur type Neffy has just encountered as she makes her way through ancient landscapes. There are also descriptions which will interest and sometimes amuse young readers. The Nothronychus, for example, ‘was a strange looking dinosaur. As well as its long thin claws, it had a large pot belly, a long neck and arms, and leaf-shaped teeth!’ This author knows just what to include to intrigue; a Sinosauropteryx was found with its last meal ‘the fossilised remains of a small mammal’ still in its stomach. But this, like so much of the information, is more than just an interesting snippet as it shows how palaeontologists find out about ancient forms of life captured in fossils. Fossilised tracks of dinosaurs can indicate their likely speed and gait as well as their size. I like the speculative tone and the way the author presents knowledge not as static but as ever changing as new evidence is found. While scaled dinosaurs were dominant for thousands of years it was the feathered dinosaurs that seem to have been better adapted to changes in their environment and which are related to modern birds.
The book is aesthetically pleasing: large and atmospheric illustrations show towering trees and rich dark green and brown primeval vegetation against the cream coloured pages which are in generous landscape format. Microraptors, as they fly and swoop, are in dramatic contrast to the ancient landscape with their big scarlet beaks and their jet black feathers with white tips. This would be an excellent starting point for young children’s discussion, drawing and writing. Books of this quality make the survival of the print information book desirable and likely.