Wondering what to buy for your favorite dinosaur fan this Christmas season? Here's a list of the 10 best dinosaur-themed books, toys, DVDs and video games for both adults and kids.
The year's best dinosaur-themed coffee-table book, Prehistoric Life
is a lavishly illustrated history of life on earth--not just dinosaurs, pterosaurs and aquatic reptiles, but mammals, birds, fish, crustaceans, plants and insects. The full-page illustrations (such as a rampaging Tarbosaurus and a herd of Corythosaurus wandering through a swamp) are as stunning as the photographs of ancient fossils.
It's not the cheapest robotic dinosaur on the market, but Spike the Ultra Dinosaur is certainly the biggest, sturdiest, and most impressive. This cartoony-looking Stegosaurus walks, bellows, and rears up on its hind legs, and it can even be "taught" to retrieve the included plastic bone and boulders. Thankfully, the whole shebang runs on a rechargeable battery pack, though you'll have to feed a fresh supply to the child-friendly remote control.
This bargain DVD from the Discovery Channel contains seven dinosaur-themed, hour-long TV specials: Valley of the T. Rex
, T. Rex: New Science, New Beast
, When Dinosaurs Roamed America
, Utah's Dino Graveyard
, Dinosaur Planet
, The Mystery Dinosaur
and Dinosaurs: Return to Life?
All feature the network's characteristic mix of hard science and you-are-there graphics, and are guaranteed to teach as well as entertain.
The headline story over the past few years has been the discovery of an increasing (and increasingly bizarre) array of feathered dinosaurs, ranging from raptors to tyrannosaurs to unclassifiable "dino-birds" like Sinornithosaurus and Jinfengopteryx. This handsome book profiles a hundred or so of these feathered beasts, each descriptive essay accompanied by oversized, specially commissioned illustrations.
Here's an idea for budget-strained parents: rather than buying one or two dinosaur models that your child will assemble once and then stashes in the closet, how about a building-block kit that includes instructions for building over 20 dinosaurs, ranging from toddler-friendly mini-projects to intricate beasts that will challenge even brainy 14-year-olds? Even better, this K'Nex kit is compatible with your kids' Lego sets, so they can add on to their creations.
Remember the Transparent Man, that anatomical mainstay of kids' toy chests dating from the 1950's? Discovery Channel's 4D Triceratops operates on the same principle: kids assemble this 42-piece model from the inside out, resulting in a semi-transparent Triceratops inside which you can see the skeleton and internal organs. According to Discovery, the arrangement isn't based on sheer guesswork: this toy was designed with the help of an "international expert on vertebrate paleontology."
Turok isn't quite as old as the dinosaurs it depicts, but this video game has a venerable history, with the first installment (for the extinct Nintendo 64) released in 1997. Reviewers are mixed about the depth of Turok's game play, but they all agree about its superbly rendered dinosaurs, which lunge, charge and pounce with murderous speed. This first-person shooting game is currently available for PlayStation 3 and XBox 360, but older versions can still be found for other game systems.
The perfect dinosaur book for younger readers, Dinosaurium is actually ten books in one: rectangular cutouts in the thick, cardboard pages of the main tome contain nine dinosaur mini-books and pamphlets, including a Dinopedia, flippable Dinoflicks, a dinosaur timeline, and a foldout about various dinosaur parts (teeth, claws, spines, tails, skeletons, etc.) Perhaps most innovative is the Dino Swatch mini-book, with its samples of what dinosaur skin might have looked like.
Lots of companies produce dinosaur figurines, but few that do so with the care and attention to detail of Safari. Produced in association with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Safari Carnegie collection includes large reproductions of Diplodocus and Spinosaurus, as well as more affordable, smaller replicas of woolly mammoths and Velociraptors. The series is still being updated; careful buyers can supplement their growing collections by visiting eBay.
Sometimes, the best way to teach kids about dinosaurs is to let them get their hands dirty. The Skullduggery T. Rex Skeleton Diorama includes a plastic mold, premixed plaster, paints and paintbrushes, the idea being for aspiring paleontologists to pour, assemble and paint their own miniature T. Rex fossils. Skullduggery also makes smaller casting kits devoted to Velociraptor, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, and, yes, T. Rex.