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2013 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize Winners


2013 Prize winners from left to right, Loree Griffin Burns, Sy Montgomery, Terrie M. Williams, and Penny Chisholm.

The AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books celebrates outstanding science writing and illustration for children and young adults. The prizes, established in 2005, are meant to encourage the writing and publishing of high-quality science book for all age groups. Solely supported by Subaru since their inception, the prizes recognize recently published works that are scientifically sound and foster an understanding and appreciation of science in young readers. This year’s finalists were selected by a selection panel made up of librarians, scientists, and science literacy experts. The panel selected 19 finalists and 4 winners out of nearly 170 books up for consideration across all four categories. From this distinguished group, four winners were selected.

The 2013 Prizes are notable because this is the first year that we have had repeat winners in any of the categories; and in fact we have two. Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm won in the Children’s Picture Book category in 2009 for their previous collaboration, Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life. Loree Griffin Burns and Ellen Harasimowicz won in the Middle School Science Book category in 2011 for The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe.

Also of note this year is the depth of the entries in the Hands-on Science category. In previous years, the selection panel has had difficulty finding enough high quality books in the category to nominate as finalists. In those years, we have opted to award a Lifetime Achievement Prize to an author who has made a significant contribution to hands-on science books over the course of a career. This year, however, marked a great improvement in the genre and the panel identified five outstanding nominees. As inquiry and hands-on science are very important elements of science learning, we were heartened to find such a rich field of nominees.

Finally, we were also pleasantly surprised to find that many of the finalists were books either written by female scientists or highlighting the work of female scientists, including Sylvia Earle, Rachel Carson, Temple Grandin, Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, Loree Griffin Burns, and Terrie M. Williams. Books by or about female scientists were included in every category. All of these wonderful resources can play a role in sparking young girls to explore a career in science. In addition, Sy Montgomery’s excellent biography of Temple Grandin focuses not just on Grandin’s research and accomplishments, but also on the role her autism played not just in terms of obstacles, but also in terms of opportunities to see things differently. This is also an important message for children with autism or other disabilities because it provides them with a role model who broke barriers and made significant contributions to science and to society.

The winners were honored at an Awards Reception on February 16th as part of the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.

Children's Science Picture Book

Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas, by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm; illustrated by Molly Bang. Blue Sky Press, 2012.

Acclaimed Caldecott artist Molly Bang paints a stunning, sweeping view of our ever-changing oceans. In this timely book, Bang uses her signature poetic language and dazzling illustrations to introduce the oceanic world. From tiny aquatic plants to the biggest whale or fish, Bang and Chisholm present a moving, living picture of the miraculous balance sustaining each life cycle and food chain deep within the oceans. The lyrical text provides a clear explanation of the role of the sun in photosynthesis on land and seas as the ocean’s role in the food chain is introduced. Young readers are introduced to "the great invisible pasture of the sea," phytoplankton. Bang uses somewhat complex page designs to deliver considerable information about the way the ocean works, continuously creating a strong sequence of esthetic images. She often uses multiple frames to isolate specific interactions, while retaining an overall sense of unity.

Middle Grades Science Book

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World, by Sy Montgomery.  Houghton Mifflin, 2012.

This is an effective and truly engaging biography that communicates a prodigious amount of information about autism. Temple Grandin, a pioneer for the humane treatment of animals by both the livestock and food industries, dealt with and learned to manage autism. Both cursed and blessed by autism, Temple, with the support and assistance of family and educators, learned to utilize the special talents she possessed because of the disorder to revolutionize the treatment of livestock, especially cattle, as they progress through the food supply chain, from birth on the farm to dinner for humans. The story of Temple Grandin's life and achievements is fascinating in its own right, but the accurate information on autism makes the book much more than just a biography. Grandin’s story provides a great example for children about succeeding against the odds, not just because of her autism but also because of her persistence in establishing her credibility and scientific acumen as a lone women in a male dominated field. The book is written at a level that is high enough to make it interesting and educational, yet simple enough that middle or junior high school students could read and learn from it.

Hands On Science Book

Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard, by Loree Griffin Burns; photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz.  Henry Holt, 2012. 

With informative and engaging text and high-quality photographs, Citizen Scientists introduces children (and adults) to 4 projects in which participation of ordinary people is part of important research. The projects profiled are Monarch Watch, in which participants catch, tag, or report information from tagged butterflies; the Audubon Christmas Bird Count in which citizens count winter birds; Frog Watch which involves listening for frog and toad calls; and Lost Ladybug in which citizens help chronicle ladybug abundance and diversity. Each chapter describes the project and its importance while reporting on the experience of young people who are participating. There is much information about the butterflies and birds, frogs and ladybugs throughout the book. This is a science book that will definitely lure in young readers and will leave them anxious to participate and be informed about these creatures that for the most part live right in our backyards.

Young Adult Science Book

The Odyssey of KP2: An Orphan Seal, a Marine Biologist, and the Fight to Save a Species, by Terrie M. Williams. Penguin Press.

 Williams’ interesting, well-told story of a single Hawaiian monk seal pup illustrates how scientific research increases knowledge while helping draw attention to the fate of a declining species. Her story is a good mix of “hands on” science and how human and animal culture play roles in the natural cycle of life. She also poses for readers the question of the value and appropriateness of government intervention in helping preserve species for scientific research. Because the book focuses around a few key personalities, it provides students with an up-close look at scientists. Additionally, the presence of a female scientist opens up the possibility that girls reading The Odyssey of KP2 will be more likely to pursue science when they see it in the context of this story, especially since the narrative conveys not only Williams’ work, but also how she developed into a scientist, and her passion for her work - all good things for young people to see. 

The AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books is sponsored by Subaru.