I’m working on a picture book with a prehistoric theme, so have been on the hunt for good reference material. While there are zillions of books about the multitudes of fabulous dinosaurs, it’s been more difficult to find information about all those other intriguing critters from cyanobacteria to giant sea scorpions to Diictodon (“the gopher of the Permian,” i.e. a reptile that lived in burrows) to Ambulocetus (”the walking whale“) and many more. In addition to having a more inclusive view of all life throughout Earth’s prehistory, there had to be plenty of pictures, naturally. So here are a few books that include dinosaurs AND equally interesting non-dinos:
Super Little Giant Book of Prehistoric Creatures
by David Lambert and The Diagram Group
2006, 288 pages, 4" X 5".
This small book has clear illustrations, timelines, overviews of the major geological periods, and spotlights a good variety of animals with a description plus a summary of pronunciation of those tongue-twisting names, scientific classification, size, diet, location, and era.
The Complete Guide to Prehistoric Life
Tim Haines and Paul Chambers, the makers of the TV trilogy Walking With Dinosaurs/Beasts/Monsters
2005, 216 pages, 8.5" X 11.
This book has stunning digital illustrations with photo-realistic detail that bring the ancient world to frightening life. Presented in chronological order, there’s a written description of each animal and its lifestyle. From Thrinaxodon (a reptile with whiskers), to Giganotosaurus (the largest meat-eating dinosaur), to Entelodon (a rhino-sized pig) these are fascinating creatures to get acquainted with.
National Geographic Prehistoric Mammals
by Alan Turner, paintings by Mauricio Anton
2004, 192 pages, 8.5" X 11.25"
A splendid compendium starting with mammal-like reptiles then covering the major mammal groups such as marsupials, elephant relatives such as Deinotherium (nice chin tusks), primitive whales, tank-like Glyptodonts, bear-dogs, giant sloths, the largest land mammal (Indricotheres) and many more, including human ancestors. Many of the attractive illustrations also include the habitat that existed at the time.
The World Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs & Prehistoric Creatures
by Dougal Dixon
2007, 512 pages, 7" X 9"
One of the largest guides I've found, with about 1,000 animals described and nicely illustrated. After summaries of the geological timescale, habitats, and the process of fossilization, the animals march in. Starting with early tetrapods (4-limbed descendants of fish), there are giant amphibians, early reptiles and mammals, ocean-dwelling reptiles such as plesiosaurs, flying pterosaurs, armored/grazing/meat-eating dinosaurs, almost-birds, early cats, dogs, camels, rhinos, primates... they’re all there and more in a mind-boggling parade of the incredible creatures that existed ages ago.
By the way, I haven't forgotten about prehistoric plants. There aren’t many books devoted to them exclusively, but many references include at least a token section about ancient flora. And not to neglect the wonders of the Internet... you can find recently unearthed discoveries too new to be in books by putting in search terms like “giant prehistoric rodent” and some cool critters may pop up.
The books above are for all ages, so here are a few picture books:
Prehistoric Actual Size
written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins 2005, 10" X 12", 32 pages with 2 gatefolds
By one of the I.N.K. blog’s own contributors, this book gives readers the opportunity to compare themselves to creatures depicted at life size, such a giant millipede, a three-inch shark, a chicken-sized dinosaur, and a terror bird. Like the books mentioned above, the featured animals include a nice diversity of prehistoric life in vibrant collage illustrations.
Bugs Before Time: Prehistoric Insects and Their Relatives
by Cathy Camper and Steve Kirk
This is one of the fews books that focus on prehistoric insects and other arthropods.
When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long Before Dinosaurs
by Hannah Bonner
2007, 48 pages, 8.5" X 10.5 inches
When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange, and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life before Dinosaurs
An introduction to life on Earth before dinos with a sense of humor.
For an incredibly comprehensive list of K-12 books about fossils, dinosaurs, and other prehistoric topics, check out the page compiled by retired science librarian Jack Mount.
As for the project that has inspired all this investigation, it’s in the dummy phase right now and may “evolve” a little or a lot before completion... anyway, here’s an excerpt:
I am a little cockroach,
my family goes way back,
survival is our trademark,
despite nonstop attack.
Believe it or not, there are three more stanzas... look out world, she’s writing in verse!