Four engaging books that explore the inner workings of a school garden, the discovery of two-million-year-old fossils, the joys and possibilities of backyard bird watching, and the practical and ethical implications of biotechnology on our relationships with domesticated animals and wildlife have earned top honors in the 2014 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books  competition.
This year's prizes, which recognize the work of four authors as well as a photographer, promote science literacy by showcasing the importance of good science writing and illustration. AAAS and Subaru of America, Inc. co-sponsor the prizes to recognize recently published works that are scientifically sound and foster an understanding and appreciation of science in readers of all ages.
"AAAS is pleased to join with Subaru to celebrate these outstanding science books and authors," said Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of its journals Science, Science Translational Medicine, and Science Signaling. "The books we honor this year demonstrate the range of scientific inquiry and invite children and young adults to actively engage in the excitement of scientific discovery."
The 2014 prizes recognized efforts in four categories: Children's Science Picture Books, Middle Grades Science Books, Young Adult Science Books, and Hands-on Science Books. In addition, a special prize was awarded to the Scientists in the Field series of books, published by Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt. Winners will receive $1500 and a plaque on 15 February during the 2014 AAAS Annual Meeting  in Chicago.
Tom Doll, president of Subaru of America, Inc., congratulated the winners for their outstanding contributions to science writing and illustration. "As a technology company, we are delighted to be able to support such a worthy organization as AAAS," he said.
The prizes are administered by the AAAS review journal Science Books & Films  (SB&F). SB&F Editor-in-Chief Maria Sosa was impressed by the range of topics and approaches represented by the winners and finalists. "Exciting and new scientific discoveries as well as time-honored activities such as gardening and bird watching can all fall under the umbrella of science," she said. "You never know what will capture a child's imagination, and having an array of subjects from which to choose enhances opportunities for reading and exploring science."
The prize winners also help support the practices that undergird the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core Standards. "Through interviews with the winning authors, blogs posts, social media chats, and K-12 lesson plans based on their books, we are not only supporting science teaching and learning, but also the Common Core standards that emphasize the use of quality informational text," said Shirley Malcom, head of the AAAS Directorate for Education and Human Resources.
Finalists were selected by a group of judges made up of librarians, scientists and science literacy experts. Out of nearly 165 books up for consideration across all four categories, the judges selected 13 finalists , the largest number since the inception of the prizes.
The 2014 prize recipients are:
It's Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School GardenBy George Ancona. (Photos by George Ancona) MA: Candlewick, 2013.
Writer and photographer Ancona shares his fascination with a school garden near his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Over the course of a year he photographed the students, their friends, teachers and family as they tended to the garden from seed to harvest. In the best of scientific traditions, students plan, do, observe and record. Ancona's photo essay is graced with the students' drawings of the plants, the insects that keep the garden thriving and the wildlife that calls the garden home.
The Skull in the RockBy Lee R. Berger & Marc Aronson. DC: National Geographic Children's Books, 2012.
When nine-year-old Matthew Berger showed his father, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, a fossil he found in South Africa, a remarkable journey of scientific discovery was launched. It turned out to be a nearly complete fossil skeleton of a previously unknown species, Australopithecus sediba (a major find in the hominid tree). In this book Berger and co-author Aronson bring the story of this important discovery to young readers. The authors offer step-by-step explanations of paleontological techniques using photographs from the field and laboratory.
Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech's Brave New BeastsBy Emily Anthes. NY: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.
In Frankenstein's Cat, journalist Emily Anthes takes readers from "petri dish to pet store" in her succinct summary of how humans have developed and used technology over the past decade to modify other animals for their own purposes. This extremely accessible book presents both sides of the ethical debate about the impact of these technologies on the animals. Students who read this book will be left with not only a clear grasp of its subject matter, but also an excellent exemplar on how to develop an argument from evidence.
Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own BackyardBy Annette LeBlanc Cate. MA: Candlewick, 2013.
This engaging introduction to bird watching encourages kids to get outdoors with a sketchbook and really look around. Quirky full-color illustrations portray dozens of birds chatting about their distinctive characteristics, including color, shape, plumage, and beak and foot types. Interactive and enjoyable tips bring an age-old hobby to new life for the next generation of bird-watchers.
In 2014, AAAS recognizes the Scientists in the Field series as an Outstanding Science Series, an accolade awarded only once before as part of the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prizes. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the Scientists in the Field series offers young people ages 9 to 14 close-up views of scientists at work. Since 1999, 40 beautifully designed Science in the Field books have explored a broad array of topics, profiling scientists as they observe gorillas, study volcanic eruptions, reconstruct prairies, track polar bears, climb redwoods, guide the Mars rovers, swim with sharks, fly into hurricanes, search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and try to solve the mysteries posed by dwindling populations of frogs, bats, and honey bees.
In the seven years of AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize, which began in 2006, the Middle Grade Science Prize has been awarded to a book from the Scientists in the Field series three times.