Non-fiction review: Prehistoric World (Kallie Moore) and That’s Life (Mike Barfield)

With illustrations by Becky Thomas and Lauren Humphrey
An introduction to me and my discovery of children’s non-fiction 

As a children’s independent bookseller I have loved building up my knowledge of non-fiction texts. In the past 5+ years I’ve supported teachers, teaching assistants, and librarians to to find books they need to support their curriculum I owe a debt of gratitude to a number of people in bookish Twitter without which I simply would not have acquired the knowledge and understanding of children’s non-fiction that I now have. What has been a joy to see is how a number of schools and individuals have also seen the huge potential for non-fiction books to develop opportunities for reading for pleasure. After all for some readers what better motivation is there to want to read, than to find out more about something you’re fascinated or curious about?

In the last 15 years changes in book production have transformed what is possible in terms of pictures in children’s books, in both fiction and non-fiction books. Take today’s children’s non-fiction and look beneath the surfaces and you notice some distinct differences in style of presentation. In the first of a series of blog posts. I compare two books on related themes, which I hope will open your eyes to the wide variety of non-fiction that is out there today.

In this blog post I’m going to dive beneath the covers of two non-fiction books. One is primarily focused on the history of earth before humans (prehistory) the second with the diversity of living things that can be found on planet earth. I probably have a working knowledge of almost 100 children’s non-fiction books, but it’s at least twice that which has come in and gone out to customers in my home based business (Readers that Care). So how on earth do I choose which ones to talk about? That’s Life is one of my 11 year old  son’s favourite books. So when The Prehistoric History from new non-fiction publisher Neon-squid landed on my desk I saw an opportunity to compare two great texts. What also influenced the choice, was that as well as making great books for a school library, they also make fantastic texts to have at home. Both are the kind of books that 9+ year olds, teenagers and even adults curious about our planet would love to explore and re-visit multiple times. Making them perfect for fostering a love of reading for pleasure. 

Introduction to the non-fiction books

Tales of the The Prehistoric World by Kallie Moore and Becky Thomas (Neon-Squid)

What an incredible amount of information is packed into this book. Whether you’re already fascinated by the history of life on earth or just starting out in your journey of discovery there is something for everyone. This large format non-fiction book is 152 pages long, plus a contents and index page. It’s large bold illustrations really stand out. 


That’s Life by Mike Barfield and Lauren Humphrey

This engaging book written by Mike Barfield is a great introduction to the diversity of life on earth today. It takes a detective approach to examining the 7 kingdoms of life. It combines clear information with pictures and colourful diagrams, creating a really accessible text.


I would highly recommend both books for 9+ years. One of the things I love about both is the way they interweave stories of discovery with detailed information on different life forms. In the case of Prehistoric World, it’s stories about the discovery of fossils. For That’s Life it comic strip ‘life stories’ giving an insight into some of the people who made discoveries about our world.


The other thing that stands out about these books is the illustrations, the styles are different but both work really well.

Getting started and diving in…

We often talk about how a fictional novel starts, but how often do we talk about how a children’s non-fiction book starts?


The Prehistoric World

After the contents page there is a chatty foreward from the author Kallie Moore, a diagram of the geological time scale, and a brief mention of the earth’s 5 big extinctions. Then each chapter is introduced with eye catching illustrations. 


The book then introduces the stromatolites which were around 3.5 billion years ago, in what is today Australia. Some fascinating connections are made with the Mars Rover and then there is a story about the kids of the Charnwood Forest and how the first Precambrian fossil was found. I was fascinated by the page on Burgess Shale. Fossils which were discovered when the Canadian Pacific railway was built in 1909. Beautifully preserved soft-bodied creatures, which are very rare, but they think were preserved by being buried by a rapid underwater mudflow.


That’s Life

A short chapter introduces the reader to life on earth, including how the earth was formed, cell structure and an introduction to the tree of life and classification. The fist 3 Kingdoms are single-celled life forms, so there are similarities with the first chapter of the Prehistoric World. Great use is made of information boxes, digrams and fun illustrations. Each kingdom section, also has an activity you can try at home (that needs minimal equipment) to explore things first. Making this a great choice for budding scientists. 


The main section

The main section is where these two book become very different. The Prehistoric World has a  80 pages (about half the book) dedicated to the age of the reptiles, which includes dinosaurs. So if your child has a keen interest in these creatures this is the book for them. There is plenty for  keen dinosaur fans to discover, but also much to interest those not normally interested in dinosaurs. You will leave with your eyes opened on the creatures of this period AND how many of the major discoveries of fossils and animal bones were made.


After the introduction the rest of That’s Life is given over to explore the Kingdoms of Life in turn. One of the largest sections, of 12 detailed pages is the one of Kingdom Plants (plants), which I found absolutely fascinating. There are many great recent non-fiction books that explore plants, growing, and/or trees and forests. What I love about this one, is that plants are discussed alongside all life forms, opening up opportunities to explore new interests.


The closing chapter.

The last chapter of prehistory includes the last 66million years of history on earth. Which includes a little about giant mammals and the rise of humans. It is perhaps a little bit rushed. But, then this is a book about pre-history, where the focus is on life on earth before humans. However, I do like how it ends with the last ice age. I find myself with this book, wanting to go back to the first chapter, because in a way it’s there that are the lessons for the future, when it talks about extinction events. 


That’s Life ends with the Animal Kingdom and a section on Mammals. It provides specific examples of the different features of different sorts of animals. It concludes with a thought provoking comic strip on the pressures of human population on our planet and brief mention of animal extinction. A great launch pad for more discussion about our relationship with the planet.


I hope you enjoyed this look under the covers of two fantastic non-fiction titles which would make a great addition to school libraries and home collections. Highly recommend of 9+ years, teenagers and some adults. I have found it interesting to compare these two texts chronologically but of course that’s rarely how we read non-fiction. The beauty of them is that we can dip into and out exploring the information as we please. However, for both books there would be some benefit in reading the first chapter first.


Available to buy from Readers that Care
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