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Science Authors Honored at AAAS Annual Meeting


As part of the 2016 AAAS Annual Meeting, the winners of this year's AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books received their honors at a reception on Saturday, February 13, in Washington, D.C.

AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books celebrate outstanding science writing and illustration for children and young adults. Now in their second decade, the prizes are handed out annually in an effort to encourage the writing and publishing of high-quality science books for all age groups.

Honored at the event were:

  • Sy Montgomery, author of The Octopus Scientists: Exploring the Mind of a Mollusk, in the Middle Grades Science Book category. Part of the award-winning Scientists in the Field series, Montgomery's eloquent book focuses on a group of scientists working on a remote South Pacific island, studying the decision-making behavior of octopuses.
  • Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction, in the Young Adult Science Book category. Shapiro, an evolutionary molecular biologist, highlights in accessible text the cutting-edge field of bringing species back from extinction and the science behind what is involved, including genome modification.
  • Melissa Caughey, author of A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Chickens, in the Hands-On Science Book category. Caughey's book, which evolved out of her website on raising a flock of backyard birds, engages kids by focusing on the skills they will need to acquire in order to help their own chickens flourish.

Montgomery thanked the prize committee, saying, "I'm so thrilled you're honoring my book ... and honoring my friends ... and honoring octopuses themselves." She went on to share that while most mollusks lack brains, octopuses not only have one, but that their brains can have up to 75 lobes, depending on the species. That kind of brain power allows them to enjoy playing with toys like Legos® and Mr. Potato Head, just like humans. Montgomery concluded by saying that she hoped by writing about octopuses "to show that there are all kinds of minds," and by doing so to "expand our universe and expand our compassion."

Caughey, who was a nurse-practitioner for many years before getting involved in the modern homesteading movement with her husband and young children, said she'd always thought of herself as a scientist. On her website, Tilly's Nest, Caughey explores small-scale agriculture, writing about chickens, bees, and gardening in an accessible way for modern, casual audiences. Her how-to book, which includes related craft and culinary activities, explains  what's involved in raising a backyard flock, an endeavor, Caughey said, that can "open eyes  and inspire kids to explore and follow their hearts."

Shapiro, an evolutionary biologist at University of California, Santa Cruz, and a 2009 winner of a Macarthur Award, got tired of people asking her if it was possible for scientists to clone a mammoth using DNA from fossils in order to resurrect an extinct species. "It's not possible," she said, "to explain why that's not possible in a sound-byte style of response, so that's really why I wrote this book." The true goal, she said, of exploring de-extinction should be to learn how animals went extinct during "periods of rapid global warming in the past so we can make more informed decisions about how to use whatever limited resources we have today to preserve and protect species that are in danger of going extinct now."

Shapiro's final remarks underscored the reason why quality science writing is so important, particularly for children and young adults: "I like the idea of being able to go out and have conversations about science with kids and adults who come up to me afterward and ask hard and interesting questions about the ethics of this and the ecology of this and the science of this. It's been a really wonderful experience."

Robin Page, who won the Children's Science Picture Book category for A Chicken Followed Me Home! Questions and Answers about a Familiar Fowl, was also honored. Her first solo book as both author and illustrator answers questions young children may have about chickens with accessible and interesting text and illustrations that, as SB&F Editor-in-Chief Maria Sosa noted, just "pull you in" to her story.

Montgomery and Page are both repeat winners of their respective categories. Montgomery's book, Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World, won in 2013. Page won with Steve Jenkins in 2009 for Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World. Read more about these authors and their books in the Spotlight on Science Writers series. Additional Science NetLinks resources for previous winners are available on our prize collection page. Educators may also find this post on using award-winning children's science books to support the implementation of Common Core standards in the STEM classroom interesting.

Finalists for this year's AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books can be found here.


Photo Credits: (Top) Suzanne Thurston; (Body: Sy Montgomery; Melissa Caughey; Maria Sosa and Beth Shapiro) Kirstin Fearnley.


This post originally appeared on Science NetLinks.