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The History (and Pre-History) of Rocks

Book Review

What does a rock have to tell us? Deb Pilutti invites readers to slow down and consider the personal history of rocks. In Old Rock (is not boring), readers meet Old Rock and his friends: a spotted beetle, a tall pine tree and a slightly pretentious hummingbird (we all have a friend like hummingbird). Old Rock’s friends are concerned that he has a dull life. Through Old Rock’s stories though, his friends travel through time and learn about the not-so-boring events that led to Old Rock being in the place and shape he is today. A volcano, a glacier and several prehistoric beasts all make appearances within the 40 pages.

(Deb Pilutti/Penguin/Putnam Books for Young Readers)

It might be easy to consider overlooking a picture book whose central character is a medium sized midwestern boulder. But Pilutti’s clever (often humorous) writing, complimented by her playful illustration style, unifies this off-beat rock narrative, quickly endearing doubtful readers to the story and its characters.

At the end of the book, Pilutti has wisely laid out the back matter to read more like a comic book than a wordy explanation of geologic time. There is a wonderful balance of words and pictures, making exceptional use of the space and remaining attention span of young readers. In fact, the style is so similar to the story itself that the transition is seamless and its content, read-aloud worthy.

Okay, okay, it's a streatch to talk about ocean literacy principles for Old Rock. It touches on Principle 2, The ocean and life in the ocean shape the features of Earth, but really it's just a good book about a rock and I wanted to share about it. While there are many creative ways this book could be incorporated into classroom curriculum, the focus here is on science. Old Rock (is not boring) would be a fun indroduction to a geology unit, encouraging students (who may already be interested in more charismatic prehistoric creatures) to think like geologists and ask questions about the surprisingly interesting and yet easily accessible rock.


1. Rock Narratives: Make your own Old Rock and write a story about its history, either from research or your imagination. Check out Deb Pilutti’s website for a handout on this activity.

2. Rockhounding: Stop by the library, pick up a regional rocks and minerals field guide and see what interesting rocks you can find locally. Make a museum table or windowsill display with your rocks. Use notecards to label what you find.

3. Sensory Bin: Turn a metal cake pan into a temporary sensory bin with play sand, a rock and some toy dinosaurs.

4. Make Your Own Volcano: Classic kitchen chemistry.....don't forget how unforgettable this simple chemical reaction is to elementary students. For a refresher on how to make a volcano in your own home, check out Deb's instructional video.

5. Timeline Project: Sometimes it's difficult to understand how humans measure time, especially when comparing BC to AD. Pulling out a roll of paper and having students work together to chart out and illustrate a timeline can give students a better understanding of the progression on a geologic timescale.

6. Fossil Cookies: For those who like to go above and beyond....I mean, why not? Martha Stewart has a recipe for such an occasion and it requires no background in culinary arts. I also found a similar recipe in Kim Andrews' book (Activity #30), Exploring Nature Activity Book for Kids: 50 Creative Projects to Spark Curiosity in the Outdoors from Rockridge Press.

More About the Author/Illustrator

Deb Pilutti writes and illustrates books for children from her home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Old Rock (is not boring), a Junior Library Guild selection, published by Penguin/Putnam Books for Young Readers, has received many prestigious accolades including the 2022 Giverny Award for best science book and a Kirkus Best Book of 2020. For more about Deb, Old Rock and other books, and pictures of her adorable dog Tater, visit her website or follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Looking for More Books About Rocks?

Of course we have more rock book recommendations.

For younger readers, Nerdy Babies: Rocks by Emmy Kastner packs a lot of information about earth science into a read-aloud friendly format with smiling rocks and (like all of her titles in the Nerdy Babies series) lots of curious babies.

Another wonderful book for more independent readers is the classic, The Magic School Bus Inside the Earth by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Bruce Degen. With detailed illustrations, a fantastical storyline and fun side bars, it's easy for kids to get lost in the pages.


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