Public Release: 

AAAS announces top science books for children and teens

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Have you grown weary of reading the same favorite dinosaur or bug book over and over again to the youngsters in your life? Are you ready to shake up the regular line-up of bedtime stories? In time for holiday shopping, AAAS has announced 19 finalists in the annual science book awards, which include science books for young children up to young adults.

"We're trying to show that science books don't have to be boring and bland," said Heather Malcomson, AAAS senior project associate who administers the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books. "There are many ways to excite kids about science. This prize is a way to attract attention to these science books."

The prizes are awarded in four categories: children's science picture books (for children grades K to 4), middle grades science books (grades 5 to 8), young adult science books (high school) and hands-on science or activity books (any age). Activity books are "really important because so many children learn by doing," said Malcomson, editor of the monthly journal SB&F that reviews science books.

Activities in the hands-on books are not "cookie cutter experiments" and are intended to appeal to a wide variety of children, Malcomson explained. The 2009 finalist "The Brook Book," for instance, encourages children to explore streams. Author and naturalist Jim Arnosky tells his young readers how to collect insects and other critters that live in streams, how to sketch flowers that grow near streams and how to identify birds and animal tracks frequently found near streams.

In its fifth year, the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books is intended to promote science literacy. The list of 19 finalists in the 2009 competition appeared in the 5 December issue of the journal Science. Librarians selected the finalists from over 100 entries across the four award categories. Scientists will help choose a winner in each category. The winning entries will be announced 1 January 2009 and honored during a ceremony at the 2009 AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago. Winners will receive $1,500 and a plaque.

Carolyn Phelan, a librarian at Northbrook Public Library in Northbrook, Ill., served as a judge for the children's science picture books category. Since she began her career as a children's librarian 30 years ago, Phelan has noticed that she now gets more requests for science books for younger children. The quality of the science books has also improved greatly during that time, she said. "There are better illustrations than in the past, more remarkable photos, more use of color. All of this makes the books more attractive to young children," Phelan said.

Engaging design is important for books intended for older children, too. "We look for books that are engaging, appealing and written with a layout that would appeal to teens," said Maren Ostergard, who has judged the young adult category since the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize began five years ago. "The books have to hold interest right off the bat or teens won't commit to the whole story," she said. Size also matters: can the book fit in a backpack? Is it too heavy to carry around? These are things that can also make a difference when marketing books to teenagers, Ostergard said.

Ostergard is an early literacy and outreach librarian in King County Library System in Seattle. She talks to school groups, provides library materials and resources to children in after school care and is "always trying to find good science books." Finding science books for young adults "takes some looking," Ostergard said. "They hear about fiction from their peers and the media, but I may be the only one who markets quality non-fiction to them. It's important to find good science and tell teens about it, because they don't get it otherwise."

The list of finalists is sent to libraries to encourage librarians to put the science books on display. "It's another way to get the word out about good science books," said AAAS' Malcomson.

Children's Science Picture Books

Eggs. Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Emma Stevenson. Holiday House, New York, 2008. 32 pp. $16.95.
Eggs provide a shelter in which a developing animal can breathe, be nourished with food and drink, and grow. They are laid by birds, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and even some mammals. Singer presents examples of their innumerable shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns. She also discusses how burial, brooding, and nests protect eggs, and she describes varieties of hatching. Stevenson's detailed gouache paintings convey the eggs' allure.

Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World. Steve Jenkins (illustrator) and Robin Page. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2008. 32 pp. $16.
Animals and families always fascinate children, but the facts about siblings that fill this book will also engage adults. For example, young shrews line up holding each others' tails, with the mother leading the way. Female termites lay 30,000 eggs a day, whereas giant anteaters are always single offspring. Nile crocodiles cooperate even before they hatch, but hyena cubs can fight to the death. The authors' collages are sure to appeal to young readers.

Spiders. Nic Bishop. Scholastic, New York, 2007. 48 pp. $17.99.
Spider enthusiasts and arachnophobes alike will be drawn to the amazing, up-close photographs in this informative introduction to these eight-legged predators. The concise, well-written text offers numerous interesting facts about spiders. For example, they were among the earliest terrestrial predators, having arisen more than 350 million years ago. And although "silk is the secret of spider success," many of the more than 38,000 species do not use webs. Fishing spiders dart over the water's surface, and some jumping spiders can leap 20 times their body length to pounce on prey.

Wings. Sneed B. Collard III, illustrated by Robin Brickman. Charlesbridge, Watertown, MA, 2008. 32 pp. $16.95. Paper, $7.95.
Insects, birds, and bats all move through the air on wings. Collard introduces the diversity of these appendages and their uses. Wings can be covered with scales, feathers, or bare skin. They allow peregrines to twist and turn in a dive, leaf-nosed bats to lazily flap over the ground, milkweed bugs to move short distances among patches, and Arctic terns to migrate between the polar regions. They help animals chase, catch, flee, and mate. To illustrate this variety, Brickman sculpted painted paper into colorful collages.

The Wolves Are Back. Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Wendell Minor. Dutton Juvenile, New York, 2008. 32 pp. $16.95.
The wolves of Yellowstone were once shot until they were eliminated. However, with changed values and the yearning to again hear howls in the wild, wolves were reintroduced to the national park in 1995. As the wolves multiplied, wildflowers reappeared (wolves chased away the mountain sheep that had eaten them) and birds returned (wolves hunted bison and elk that had trampled young aspen needed for perches and grasses needed for food). By following along as a wolf pup wanders the Lamar Valley, readers learn how wolves are even important to halting riverbank erosion. George's simple text and landscape artist Minor's beautiful illustrations convey the importance of maintaining all parts of ecosystems.

Middle Grades Science Books

Cold Light. Creatures, Discoveries, and Inventions that Glow. Anita Sitarski. Boyds Mills Press, Honesdale, PA, 2007. 48 pp. $16.95.
This book's theme is make light not heat. Sitarski offers an information-packed but reader friendly account of chemical and biological sources of luminescence along with important discoveries from 1602 through to today's light-emitting diodes. Of course there are photos of fireflies and jellyfish, but the intriguing images also include a glowing chicken and art by Montana State University students who covered the walls of a darkened gallery with dishes containing luminescent marine bacteria.

George Washington Carver. Tonya Bolden. Abrams Books for Young Readers (Abrams), New York, in association with the Field Museum, Chicago, 2008. 40 pp. $18.95.
Peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans (and the products made from them) were key interests of horticulturist, educator, and inventor Carver. The ex-slave's research and teaching, which stressed scientific farming and soil conservation, helped improve agriculture in the South. Bolden's eloquent telling of Carter's life and accomplishments is enhanced with quotes from him and his contemporaries. The historical photos; evocative artifacts; and Carter's own drawings, paintings, and scientific illustrations will help entice young readers.

How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming. Lynne Cheery and Gary Braasch. Dawn, Nevada City, CA, 2008. 66 pp. $18.95.
The authors survey a wide range of indications that Earth's climate is changing. These clues include the earlier spring arrivals of migrating birds, earlier blooming by wildflowers and Washington, D.C.'s cherry trees, melting glaciers and icecaps, microfossils from cores of mud from the ocean floor, and bubbles of ancient air retrieved from cores of glacial ice. In his earlier Earth Under Fire, photojournalist Braasch visited climate researchers in the field to document their discoveries. Here he and Cherry (a seasoned author of environmental books for children) also spotlight citizen science and (especially) data that can be, and is, collected by children.

Life on Earth - and Beyond: An Astrobiologist's Quest. Pamela S. Turner. Charlesbridge, Watertown, MA, 2008. 112 pp. Paper, $11.95.
Turner approaches astrobiology through the experiences of Chris McKay. Most chapters resemble a travelogue, as she describes his traipsing around the world. He visits Antarctica's Dry Valleys, the Atacama and Sahara deserts, permafrost-covered tundra in Siberia, and the bottom of an Antarctic lake permanently capped by ice. Weaving the underlying science into her narrative, she explains how studying microbes from these extreme environments helps us understand whether life can exist in similar situations on Mars or other planet.

What's Eating You? Parasites - the Inside Story. Nicola Davies, illustrated by Neal Layton. Candlewick, Cambridge, MA, 2007. 60 pp. $12.99.
This account of animals that live on or in other animals is more likely to delight than disgust. Zoologist Davies explains the advantages parasites find in being small and able to change body form during their lives. He describes the challenges they face in moving among hosts-a point reinforced in a playable "two-host tapeworm game." He also discusses parasites' amazing life cycles, their effects on hosts (including some benefits and examples of "mind control"), and some of the ways the hosts fight back. Layton's clever drawings complement the informative text.

Young Adult Science Books

Dinosaur: The Most Complete, Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages. Thomas R. Holtz Jr., illustrated by Luis V. Rey. Random House, New York, 2007. 432 pp. $34.99.
Anyone with even a passing interest in dinosaurs should not miss this journey into their diverse and truly weird world. Holtz and his colleagues fill the book with fascinating details ranging from discoveries of new species (e.g., a sauropod, Amphicoelias, with a mass of 18 elephants) to old favorites (e.g., Tyrannosaurus rex, which may have lived and hunted in packs). They cover major and minor groups, predator-prey relations, social interactions within species, habitats and habits, and evolutionary trends. With its conversational tone and Rey's engaging illustrations, the book should appeal to young adults and a general audience alike.

The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell. Rachel Herz. Morrow, New York, 2007. 288 pp. $24.99.
Far from a prissy survey of perfumes and odor-it starts with the suicide of a rock singer who had lost his sense of smell-this book explores how and why smell is such a central component of our lives. Explaining basic neurobiological principles in clear language, Herz intermixes them with stories and personal accounts of her research and experiences. She describes olfactory technologies, such as the development of electronic noses, which are already beginning to be used in the food industry and might even help diagnose diseases. She also dreams of a gel that would boost olfactory receptor function and restore sensation to older individuals. Her account will stimulate readers' interests in psychology and neuroscience.

The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret. Seth Shulman. Norton, New York, 2008. 256 pp. $24.95.
Who invented the telephone? Most people would answer Alexander Graham Bell-recall "Mr. Watson, come here!" In this well-researched and well-written account, Shulman argues that Bell furtively copied crucial aspects of his device from a patent application by Elisha Gray. The author weaves science, intrigue, and romance into a fast-paced narrative. He lays his evidence out clearly while carrying readers through the steps he took to build his thought-provoking case.

Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys But Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life. Sandra Aarnodt and Sam Wang. Bloomsbury, New York, 2008. 240 pp. $24.95.
The neuroscientist authors offer a highly accessible and richly informative "user's guide" to our brains. They cover a broad range of topics, offering up-to-date information directed to answering questions of the curious public. They supplement their charming narrative with frequent and quite extensive sidebars that debunk myths, focus on specific issues, and offer practical tips. Eschewing didactical lecturing, their friendly and informal writing effectively engages the reader in a comfortable, interesting, and informative dialog.

Hands-On Science/Activity Books

Animal Tracks and Signs. Jinny Johnson. National Geographic, Washington, DC, 2008. 192 pp. $24.95.
Whether they inhabit backyards, local fields or woods, or wilderness parklands, most animals can be hard to sight. But they do leave clues to their activities: tracks, nests, feeding remains, and dung. Johnson gives pointers on how to notice, record, and interpret such signs. In addition, she includes basic facts about the animals themselves. Mammals garner the most attention, while amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects, and other invertebrates are discussed in shorter sections. Although the book's global scope limits its coverage to some 400 selected examples, the information can often also be applied to closely related species. This enticing introduction should lead nature enthusiasts to seek additional details in field guides with a more restricted focus.

The Brook Book. Jim Arnosky. Dutton Children's, New York, 2008. 32 pp. $15.99.
Budding naturalists who have access to any narrow, shallow stream will find this an inviting guide to the variety of observations they can make. It begins with appropriately simple explanations of the sources and fates of the water in a brook. There are plenty of activities to satisfy young explorers, including sketching flowers, collecting smooth stones, examining aquatic insects, watching birds, and looking for animal tracks. Parents will appreciate the emphasis on safety, while children should be attracted by Aronsky's alluring text and charming illustrations.

Sound Projects with a Music Lab You Can Build. Robert Gardner. Enslow, Berkeley Heights, NJ, 2008. 128 pp. $31.93.
Gardner lays out hands-on experiments that explore such topics as how sounds form and travel; properties of standing waves and harmonics; and aspects of string, wind, and percussion instruments. He adroitly balances open-ended questions and necessary background information thus enticing students to actually investigate phenomena to obtain answers. Many of the 35 experiments offer intriguing ideas for elementary or middle school science fairs. The book will reward self-motivated students who are seeking challenges in problem solving.

True Green Kids: 100 Things You Can Do to Save the Planet. Kim McKay and Jenny Bonnin. National Geographic , Washington, DC, 2008. 144 pp. $27.90. Paper, $15.95.
Youngsters who wish to join the green movement will enjoy this book. The 100 activities range from the obvious (use cloth bags, turn down your heat) to the creative and fun (set up a local carbon trading card system, help organize a trash-free lunch day at school). Each is described on a single page, which makes the book perfect for browsing. For those who want to do still more, the authors suggest ways to learn about jobs that will help our environment.

The Ultimate Guide to Your Microscope. Shar Levine and Leslie Johnstone. Sterling, New York, 2008. 144 pp. Paper, $9.95.
Most students find their introduction to microscopes boring. They are shown a diagram of parts and given a couple exercises that demonstrate the instruments' capabilities. The authors offer a lively alternative. After covering the basics and how to make various types of slides, they describe 41 projects involving easy-to-obtain objects such as pet hair, dead bugs, food molds, and clover. Their instructions, discussions of what is likely to be seen, and color photomicrographs should inspire readers to explore the tiny facets of our world.

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The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science. For more information on the nonprofit AAAS, please visit www.aaas.org.

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