Stories about the hidden creatures in our homes, a guide to the secret lives of owls, an illustrated tale of the evolutionary impacts of humans on animals and a hands-on history of codes and cryptography have earned the 2020 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books.
The awards, announced Jan. 22 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Subaru of America Inc., recognize outstanding science writing and illustration for young readers. The award program, which is now celebrating its 15th year, is intended to encourage the creation of science books that can help readers of all age groups better understand and appreciate science.
The winners are:
- Children’s Science Picture Book: Moth: An Evolution Story, by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Daniel Egnéus.
- Middle Grades Science Book: Owling: Enter the World of Mysterious Birds of the Night, by Mark Wilson.
- Hands-On Science Book: Can You Crack the Code?: A Fascinating History of Ciphers and Cryptography, by Ella Schwartz.
- Young Adult Science Book: Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live, by Rob Dunn.
The prizes were first awarded in 2005, when AAAS and Subaru of America teamed up to recognize five authors and one illustrator for their bodies of work that made lasting contributions to science literature for children and young adults. Since then, the awards have recognized writers and illustrators of recently published works in four categories.
Throughout the year, the prize judges – whose ranks include scientists, educators and librarians – track newly published science books and compile lists of works to read, discuss and vote on, said Maren Ostergard, an early literacy and outreach librarian in Issaquah, Washington. Ostergard chairs the committee that selects the top young adult book. As the awards have grown in prominence, more and more books have been sent to the committee for consideration, Ostergard said.
Criteria for the awards are rigorous: judges review the contenders to consider whether the scientific content is accurate, clearly presented and age-appropriate for its category. Drawing upon the work of AAAS’ Project 2061, an initiative that focuses on improving science education so that all Americans can become literate in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the criteria for picture books, for instance, require that the book stimulate curiosity in its young readers and engage them to take an interest in their environment and the natural world. The winning middle grade book should encourage early adolescents to reflect on the science that they engage in, while the winning young adult book should encourage readers to reflect thoughtfully on science and technology.
Winning books often inform readers about the practice of science in the laboratory or in the field and highlight how anyone can do science, even in their own homes, Ostergard said.
This criterion is most important for contenders in the hands-on book category. These books, which can be aimed at any age group, must include inquiry-based activities and open-ended activities to encourage the reader to develop problem-solving and research skills.
The winning books will be disseminated to K-12 schools throughout the country by Subaru of America and participating Subaru retailers nationally in conjunction with the Subaru Loves Learning initiative. Since the initiative was launched in 2015, more than 278,000 books have been donated.
“Our partnership with Subaru of America creates a unique opportunity to provide the best quality science books each year to hundreds of schools and thousands of students across the country. These awards aim to recognize books that spark curiosity and inspire the next generation of scientists,” said Sarah Ingraffea, awards manager of the prize at AAAS.
“Through the Subaru Loves Learning initiative and our partnership with AAAS, Subaru of America and our retailers have been able to provide an enriching and more accessible science education for K-12 schools by helping to recognize and donate books that enlarge the world of science for children,” said Thomas J. Doll, president and chief executive officer of Subaru of America. “We congratulate this year’s award winners, whose books will inspire the next generation of science leaders.”
Prize winners will be honored at the 2020 AAAS Annual Meeting in Seattle in February.
Children’s Science Picture Book
Moth: An Evolution Story, by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Daniel Egnéus. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019.
This picture book introduces young audiences the concepts of natural selection through the story – and striking imagery – of one creature: the peppered moth. The mostly white-hued moth once blended into the English landscape, hiding against light-colored trees and lichen. Yet, with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the soot from coal-burning factories blackened the trees, leaving the moths vulnerable in plain sight. As people continue to alter the landscape, can the moth adapt and survive?
Middle Grades Science Book
Owling: Enter the World of Mysterious Birds of the Night, by Mark Wilson. Storey Publishing, 2019.
Wildlife photographer Wilson presents bold images of the 19 North American species as they fly, nest and hunt alongside accessible information about owl habits and habitats. Wilson encourages young readers to glimpse owls in the wild, identify their calls and even carry on a hooting conversation with the local wildlife.
Hands-On Science Book
Can You Crack the Code?: A Fascinating History of Ciphers and Cryptography, by Ella Schwartz. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019.
In the first installment of a new series of interactive STEM books, Schwartz combines the historical with the hands-on, sharing stories about the past and present of cryptography, from ancient wartime communications to contemporary computer hacking. The book also includes activity ideas so readers can decrypt codes and construct their own.
Young Adult Science Book
Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live, by Rob Dunn. Basic Books, 2018.
We might think we are home alone, but Dunn enumerates the thousands of creatures hidden in our homes, from moths in our cupboards to bacteria in our kitchens. Yet our efforts to sterilize our homes and rid them of these hidden creatures is paradoxical, Dunn notes – we are simply creating a new space for evolution and adaptation.