Dinosaur Hunter | Book Review

The remarkable true story of science superstar Joan Wiffen, whose fossil discoveries proved that dinosaurs lived in ancient New Zealand.

You learn something new every day. I’m shocked to say I didn’t know who Joan Wiffen was, or that dinosaurs lived in ancient NZ, until a trip to the museum and reading Dinosaur Hunter taught me this fact, and who discovered it to be true! We really should hear more about incredible New Zealander’s, and that’s the best thing about Dinosaur Hunter, and the other remarkable true stories in these picture book biographies of famous New Zealanders: Sir Edmund Hillary (First to the Top, 2015), Burt Munro (Speed King, 2016), Jean Batten (Sky High, 2017) and Sir Peter Blake (Hero of the Sea), it’s a factual narrative bought to life by the talented illustration of Phoebe Morris and David Hill’s writing.

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There’s no beating around the bush with this book, there’s no swish went the wind and thwack went the hammer, boom went the dynamite and tack tack went the chisel, nope, we’re here to learn about Joan and her journey to become the Dinosaur Hunter who discovered dinosaur fossils in NZ! She was born, she married, she went to her husbands night class and she discovered her passion. The dinosaurs died, their bones went into the earth, under the sea, came out on mountains, and were pushed into rock in NZ (or something like that). And Joan discovers this! Using sledgehammers, chisels, power saws and dynamite we hear about the hunter and the helpers going about their efforts of discovery. Liquid wax, bubbling acid and plaster casts all part of their palaeontology work. Discovery, confirmation and acknowledgement of the existence of dinosaurs in ancient NZ! It’s not a book deep in the creative description of sounds, or “I said”, “she said”, “said the so-and-so” sentences, it’s a biography that doesn’t shy away from facts, detail and long words (how do we pronounce “plesiosaur” anyway?), but it’s simply written with enough talk of a campfire, a hut, and a shark as long as a cricket pitch, as well as dinosaur bones of course, to keep the kids imagination engaged and attentive minds taking note.

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My 5 year old is knee deep in dinosaurs and space at the moment and was terribly excited to be tucking into a story about a Dinosaur Hunter. Though it’s not long, it was still longer than expected, but his interest peaked on hearing the details of discovering dinos, and the timeline of Joan Wiffens life and work was throughly examined. Dinosaur Hunter is a wonderful book, the whole series of biographies a wonderful idea, to bring to young kids the inspirational lives of Kiwi heroes, and their passionate adventures in life. For Joan Wiffen, her remarkable story of fossil discovery didn’t begin till she was 40 years old! Safe to say, mum and son alike were inspired, engaged, and schooled by the Dinosaur Hunter, the true story of an exceptional, and most unordinary woman, and a 5 year old boy tucked into bed happily with what he’s determined to be an ankylosaurus.

author ronnieWritten by Ronnie Swainston

Online Producer & Experiences Editor Ronnie is mum to two spirited kids who keep her on her toes. With a love for travel, film, tv, photography & (eating) food keeping her wishing for more time, & having a keen curiosity means she’ll give almost anything a go making her, and her family, up for the job!

Favourite place to be: On an adventure


  1. kymmage 01/09/2019 at 7:04 pm

    Oh this book looks excellent. Go Kiwi girl power!! Love that’s its a true story. That it is about dinosaurs! And it’s local too. My girls would love this. Totally going to go add it to my wish list.

  2. candyjanenz 31/08/2019 at 5:14 pm

    This looks like a really great book,especially as it relates to New Zealanders. I would definitely like to have a look at the other stories. When I was young we had a set of books that talked about different values and featured a famous person and used their story – however it did not have anyone from New Zealand so this is a huge plus.

  3. Alezandra 31/08/2019 at 12:20 am

    This sounds like such a cool book and it’s set in New Zealand. I’ve been enjoying book reviews from kidspot and this helps parents to figure which books are worth investing in. I also attend Playcentre so it’s something that we can share with our librarian if we need to add new books at the centre.

  4. Loucyd3 30/08/2019 at 8:36 pm

    My kids have not read this book, but we are very keen to find it and read it now, its sounds great.

  5. MuddledUpMolly 27/08/2019 at 2:08 pm

    This looks like a fantastic book! I know a few little people that are really into dinosaurs at the moment and I think this would make a wonderful birthday gift 🙂

  6. SarahBlair 21/08/2019 at 4:41 pm

    My 5 year old would adore this book!! He loves all thing dinosaur and I love that its true and about NZ!

  7. Bevik1971 19/08/2019 at 11:10 am

    I hadn’t heard of Joan Wiffen either! This book sounds fantastic! I love that it is fact based and about a real life hero (well she is in my book). My 6 year old would love to read this. I’m going to try and chase some of these books down now thanks!! 🙂

  8. Mands1980 14/08/2019 at 8:41 pm

    My kids have not read any of the kiwi hero biographies but I love the sound of this dinosaur hunter book. My son loves books like these so I am going to have to find some and buy them to try them out.

  9. Jen_Wiig 13/08/2019 at 7:19 pm

    My boys haven’t read any of these but man I certainly have to get them I to it they sound awesome espeically this story I think Mr soon to be 5 will love havigg this read to him he’s really into dinosaurs but sometimes those fact based stories are just that much more fun to discover together and enjoy. I love reading and getting into it with my boys so any sort of new book that comes out we try to read

  10. Shorrty4life1 12/08/2019 at 9:57 pm

    My kids haven’t read any kiwi hero biographies. But I would love to get them into them as this book sounds great from the review and very interesting for children. And my two are so curious so this would be great for them these sort of books

  11. Micht 06/08/2019 at 2:21 pm

    Wow…what inspirational stories to introduce kids to…real life superheroes in my opinion..people who paved the way and made a mark on the journey of New Zealands history. We have not explored these but will actively do so in the weeks to come… so important as well for girls to be empowered with this story that they are capable and able…

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