For the past 44 years, SB&F has been one of the world’s leading authorities on science books and film, with reviews that have shaped science sections at libraries and guided the reading lists of parents and their children. Now the venerable journal has gone green and gone online with an updated range of features—podcast author interviews, an editor’s blog, and a searchable database of thousands of reviews. The modern makeover makes the journal an essential tool for libraries and readers in the 21st century.
Shirley Malcom [Photograph by Michael J. Colella,colellaphoto.com ]
“SB&F helps satisfy the high public interest in science materials by recommending scientifically accurate, engaging and timely books and films,” said Shirley Malcom, head of the AAAS Education and Human Resources. “It’s the place to go for anyone wanting to wade through all the science resources out there, and hone in on what they can really use.”
Since its inaugural issue in 1965, SB&F has been the authoritative guide to science resources, bringing librarians and other educators expert information to help them make the best decisions when choosing science materials for their libraries, classrooms, or institutions. With the new online features, SB&F can more regularly update its users on newly released books, films, and other science materials in popular culture, even television shows and software.
SB&F fills an important niche for librarians and others looking for reliable, accurate, and engaging science books,” said Heather Malcomson, editor of SB&F. “No other journal is committed to making sure librarians and other educators make informed purchasing decisions when it comes to science.”
Librarians often have literature or social sciences backgrounds, and choosing science books can be a particularly challenging part of their job, Malcomson said. But with SB&F reviews, librarians can make better-informed purchasing decisions. Feature articles in the journal offer advice on collection development, including how to weed the collection.
But the journal isn’t just for librarians. Anyone wanting recommendations on science books, films and television programs can subscribe to SB&F or access it through a local library, if the library is a subscriber. SB&F has about 1,500 subscribers, mainly in the United States, but also in Canada, China, New Zealand and other countries.
Each monthly online issue contains about 75 reviews written by scientists, educators, and media specialists. Each issue is about 40 pages and is available as a downloadable pdf. Users can use the search tool to sift through thousands of reviews and feature stories. The journal is funded by an annual $45 subscription fee, along with funds from AAAS.
Most of the reviews are of books and DVDs for children. “Children get a lot of their knowledge about science from the books they read in school and at home,” Malcomson said. “It’s crucial that these books not only present the facts accurately, but they also must engage children and encourage them to want to know more. SB&F is an important tool for librarians and teachers who want to make sure they are putting great science books in to the hands of their students.”
The reviews include a rating from “highly recommended” to “not acceptable” and a level-of-difficulty rating to indicate the age group. Malcomson, who has been the journal’s editor for eight years, said that she does not know of any other journal that reviews solely science books.
While SB&F may be best known as a resource for children’s and young adult books—especially with its annual prizes  for these age groups—the journal has many resources for adults. In the journal’s October issue, reviews included adult offerings, such as Peter Bentley’s book Why Sh*t Happens: The Science of a Really Bad Day which describes the science behind why it’s so hard to get gum out of hair, why diesel fuel ruins gasoline engines, and 37 other common-place mishaps.
Reviews also cover hands-on science and engineering activities suitable for all ages. In Birdsongs by the Season: A Year of Listening to Birds by Donald Kroodsma, readers see drawings and read descriptions of birds and then listen to accompanying CDs with the birds’ songs. In a review in SB&F’s October issue, reviewer William Adams—a consultant based in Hilton Head, South Carolina—wrote that “with little effort, the reader can be immersed in [bird-watching] and enjoy it as much as a real event.”
In addition to reviews of science materials, the online version of SB&F has an editor’s blog written by Malcomson, which allows greater interaction between the journal and its subscribers. Malcomson writes weekly updates about new books coming out, resources and projects at SB&F, science programs on television, new software, and more.
“The blog is the only space on the site where registered users can leave comments,” Malcomson said. “I hope that over the months it becomes more of an interactive place for me to communicate with our users.”
Need a TV guide that focuses on science, not celebrities and reality shows? SB&F online has that too. Click the monthly online journal’s “Science on TV” tab from a pull down menu, and you’ll see a list of science programs in the coming month.
The SB&F site also has a podcast series, “AAAS Book Talks,” which started in 2007 and is funded by the William T. Golden Endowment Fund for Program Innovation. In these podcasts, book authors describe the story behind the story.
“The authors have really interesting stories to share about where the idea for the book came from or stories behind the book, like research expeditions,” said Malcomson, who does many of the interviews along with Maria Sosa, editor-in-chief of SB&F. “All of the authors have a desire to communicate science in a way that is exciting and encourages listeners to take an interest in science.”
In one podcast, Sam Wang—a neuroscientist—said that people often ask him questions about their brains, such as whether drinking alcohol kills brains cells or if playing Mozart to a baby will make her smarter. To answer some of those questions, Wang co-wrote Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys But Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life, which won the 2009 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Book Prize for Excellence in Science Books in the young adult category .
The book is meant for all ages though, Wang said in his AAAS Book Talks interview. It’s full of sidebars and practical tips, such as the science of why you can’t tickle yourself and how to hear better on a cell phone, he said.
“We’re a great resource for anyone looking for science book recommendations,” Malcomson said. “We are a very good resource for home-schoolers and other parents with children interested in science,” she said.
Teachers, too, can find reviews of science and mathematics education books, such as John Eichinger’s Activities Linking Science with Math K-4, which was reviewed in the October issue. A section within SB&F online highlights previous issues’ reviews of education books, including Richard Konicek-Moran’s Everyday Science Mysteries: Stories for Inquiry-Based Science Teaching and Denise Clark Pope’s Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students.
Due to shrinking budgets, librarians are making fewer book purchases and they may have to start fundraising drives to help continue their science collections, said Malcom, who oversees SB&F in her role as head of Education and Human Resources at AAAS. She encouraged libraries to seek out local organizations and individuals that have “a desire to share quality science with children and adults in their communities.”
Local chapters of professional societies, student chapters of engineering or science organizations, science- and technology-related businesses and even individual scientists might be approached, Malcom suggested. “Potential donors can have confidence that these books have been reviewed by SB&F, and this may spur their willingness to give to their local libraries.”