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2012 AAAS/Subaru Science Books & Film Winners Announced

Books on vanishing frogs, secretive seabirds, and the fascinating history of feathers were among the winners of the 2012 AAAS/Subaru Science Books & Film (SB&F) Prize for Excellence in Science Books. The annual award, established in 2005, recognizes books for young readers that encourage an understanding and appreciation of science.

This year’s winners feature compelling mysteries and exquisite artwork, and for the first time include a book written and illustrated by the same person:

Children’s Science Picture Book: Seabird in the Forest: The Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet, written and illustrated by Joan Dunning.

Seabird is the story of a marbled murrelet pair flying in from the swells of the Pacific Ocean to lay an egg high in the branches of a California redwood forest. The murrelet was the last bird species in North America to have its nesting site discovered, and Dunning tells the story through expressive oil paintings and sidebars about the bird’s unique lifespan and the intricate ecology of the redwoods.

“This is my first book in oils and I am thrilled with the result,” Dunning said. “I was going to illustrate the book in watercolors, like my other books, but I switched part way because I needed the weight of the oils to convey the heavy presence of the forest. Oils allowed me the time to go into great detail in the moss, the bark, and the downy feathers of the chick.”

Middle Grades Science Book: The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs: A Scientific Mystery, by Sandra Markle.

Markle’s book is a double mystery: What’s killing the tiny golden frogs of Panama, and what can be done to save them from extinction? The story traces how real-life scientists discovered the frogs’ plight, how they tested competing theories about their demise, and how conservation biologists are searching for ways to preserve threatened amphibians around the world. The prize’s judges praised the book’s accessible prose and its sense of adventure and intrigue.

“The positive response to this book is also allowing me to speak out for scientific investigation,” said Markle, “encouraging children to be inspired to seek answers to problems and to dare to imagine finding solutions.” The AAAS/Subaru award inspired her to launch Markle’s Book Explorers, a program where she donates her books to “Explorer” schools, offering enrichment activities and a virtual Skype visit to answer students’ questions.

Young Adult Science Book: Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle, by Thor Hanson.

“The vultures made me do it”—that’s the first sentence in Feathers, and it launches an enthusiastic and wide-ranging exploration of plumage. Hanson’s book includes everything from theories of feathered dinosaurs to the valuable plumes onboard the Titanic. The colorful stories are woven together with experiments, observations shaped into scientific hypotheses, and an extensive research bibliography.

As a field biologist himself, Hanson said “children are born biologists, a fact I’m reminded of whenever I walk outdoors with my 2-year-old son. He is right down there at ground level, armed with fearless curiosity and an open mind.

“Too often I fear that we teach the naturalist right out of our kids, particularly in an age so focused on screens and gadgetry.”

Lifetime Achievement Award: Vicki Cobb

Often referred to as the “Julia Child of hands-on science,” Cobb is the winner of the prize’s Lifetime Achievement Award for more than 85 nonfiction books for children. Her earlier careers as a laboratory researcher and science teacher inspired her work on books such as Science Experiments You Can Eat and Light Action! Amazing Experiments in Optics.

Cobb said her books allow her “to recreate the joy of learning I experienced in elementary school for myself, forever.” With several other nonfiction children’s authors, she started the iNK Think Tank, which helps connect nonfiction authors and their books with K-12 science teachers and national science and mathematics standards curricula.

The 2012 finalists and winners were selected by a group of judges made up of librarians, scientists, and science literacy experts. The judges selected 12 finalists out of 178 books up for consideration. Winners will receive $1500 and a plaque recognizing their achievement at the 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“We feel that books can play a role in sparking a lifelong interest in science,” said Maria Sosa, senior project director in the AAAS Education and Human Resources Programs, and editor-in-chief of SB&F. At last year’s AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., Sosa said, young scientists were lining up along with their own children to get their copies of books signed by the 2011 winners. “We hope that the authors can leverage the recognition they receive through awards like ours to make a statement that excellent science books are a key part of children’s science learning.”

Earlier this year, AAAS helped Subaru donate science books to schools in the District of Columbia as part of the “Subaru Loves Science” campaign. In a car wrapped in the covers of some of the prize-winning books, Subaru representatives and AAAS staff delivered copies of past SB&F Prize finalists to two D.C. charter schools, Eagle Academy Public Charter School and Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science.

Subaru and AAAS representatives deliver award-winning science books to Eagle Academy Public Charter School.
Front row (l-r): Maria Sosa, AAAS Senior Project Director; Faith Williams, Eagle Academy Head Librarian; Sarah Ingraffea; AAAS Program Associate; Shirley Malcom, Director of AAAS Education and Human Resources
Back row (l-r): Rebecca Burton, Eagle Academy Assistant Librarian; Ronald A. Hasty, Eagle Academy Principal, Abana Jacobs, National Promotions and Sponsorship Specialist, Subaru; Kathy McKeon, Associate for Curriculum and Instruction, Eagle Academy; Ray Smit, Zone Dealer Marketing Manager, Subaru.
[Photo courtesy of Eagle Academy Public Charter School]

The 2012 prize winners agreed that the award—and more importantly, the enthusiasm with which their books have been received by young readers—are inspiring them to work on new projects.

“Recently, I had three generations of readers attend one of my readings—grandmother, mom, and 10-year old grandson, all waiting to have their books signed,” Hanson recalled. “Later, the grandmother told me via e-mail that when they got home her grandson ‘plopped down in a chair and read until dinner was served, and immediately thereafter.’

“As a biologist, a writer, and a parent, what endorsement could be more gratifying?”


Read about the full list of finalists at Science magazine.

Learn more about the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books.

Learn more about Science Books & Film.