Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize shortlist announced

20 May 2013 by GrrlScientist, posted in Prizes & awards

Summary: Finally, what I know you've all been waiting for: the six shortlisted young people's science books have been selected and are now in the mail to hundreds of children across the UK who will select the winner of the 2013 Royal Society's Young People's Book Prize!


The complete shortlist for the 2013 Royal Society's Young People's Science Book Award.
Image courtesy of the Royal Society.

Are you a scientist who was inspired to pursue your passion after reading a children's book?

As a member of this year's panel of judges, I freely admit that I am jealous of children today – jealous because when I was a child, I had nothing close to this wealth of science books to read. In fact, I cannot remember reading any children's science books in my youth. As it was, from almost the moment I learned to read, I was reading science fiction. The only science-y book I remember reading as a child was Alfred Russel Wallace's engaging The Malay Archipelago, a book that strongly influenced my career choice and inspired my lifelong passion for the flora and fauna of the South Pacific. (I still own that book; it is a treasured friend that has traveled with me across continents.)

I can only wonder how my career choice may have differed if I'd had a mountain of books describing all areas of science available to me when I was young and impressionable. Would I have become a mathematician, as I'd planned during much of my teen years? Or a chemist, as I'd almost done when choosing which graduate programme to enroll in?

In preparation to meet with my fellow judges to choose the 2013 shortlist for the Royal Society's Young People's Book Prize, I read more than 40 children's science books in one month – easily more children's science books than I've read in my entire life up until this point. From this group of books, my fellow panelists and I had to choose the six that we thought were the very best – a difficult task! There were so many good books that our decision was challenging, and the meeting stretched later into the evening than the Royal Society had predicted it would.

"This year's books have shown how science can become the subject of beautiful poems, be the object of wonderful works of art, and all the time stretching minds, young and old, into the 'realms of imagination' and down-to-earth 'model building'," said this year's Chair of the judges' panel, Professor John Goodby FRS.

"Our eclectic collection of books have been truly enthralling, and our decisions on six candidates for 'book of the year' have been incredibly difficult," Professor Goodby continued.

"Now we turn to the real experts in our young judging panels to give us a definitive result."

The six shortlisted books are:

    Build the Human Body by Richard Walker [Templar Publishing, 2013; Amazon UK; Amazon US]
    The publisher says: The ancient Greeks had it right: "Know thyself." The editors at Silver Dolphin agree and believe that one of the keys to knowing thyself is knowing how the body works. "Build the Human Body" will teach you about the body's building blocks, help you build its framework, and show you how to map the body organs. Have fun while learning, and see the human body like you never have before through colorful illustrations, fascinating facts, and finally building your very own skeleton from the ground up. Everything you need to build your very own human skeleton is right here, ready to assemble at home or to take on the go.
    -- This unique set includes a 32-page book full of colorful illustrations and intriguing facts about the human body, plus 66 slotted pieces to build a three-dimensional skeleton.
    -- Explore the inner workings of the human body and learn what you're really made of.
    "Build the Human Body" offers a unique building and learning experience as you piece together the human skeleton, bone by bone.
    My fellow judges and I said: "A hands on, fun kit to help learn about the human body, accompanied by a well-illustrated, concise, clear book." (Read my review.)

    Buzzing! by Anneliese Emmans Dean [Brambleby Books Ltd., 2012; Amazon UK]
    The publisher says: This book is a cocktail of brilliant close-up colour photographs and fascinating information about the small yet amazing animals, especially bees, butterflies and other minibeasts, that we find in our gardens all accompanied by wonderful poems about the creatures themselves. Anyone from the age of five upwards will be enchanted by Anneliese's extraordinary insights and talent in bringing to life the world of the myriad tiny creatures that crawl and fly about us. Also, they will enjoy her sense of fun and wit, as revealed in her remarkable verse. Written for all young nature lovers, the book encourages readers to appreciate the natural world around them and help protect it. The Foreword is by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
    My fellow judges and I said: "This book is buzzing with interesting science facts and wonderful poetry. Each page features a different British minibeast that you might find in your back garden, with a funny poem about them." (Read my review.)

    Discover More: The Elements by Dan Green [Scholastic Children's Books, 2012; Amazon UK; Amazon US]
    The publisher says: Discovering the elements is discovering life itself. What are we made of? What keeps us and our universe in motion? Everything we are, and see around us, and create, is made up of a little over 90 elements, many of which have existed since the beginning of time and space. This book is more than a walk through the periodic table. It explains the tremendous forces of star birth and death that create elements. It chronicles the history of their discovery and the impact of their science on every aspect of our daily lives, from medicine to technology, architecture to the environment. Beautiful photographs and modern graphics make apparently ordinary substances, their extraction and their changes look as extraordinary as they truly are.
    My fellow judges and I said: "A good starting point for learning about the topic and full of rocking chemistry! Starting with what elements are and where they come from, the book goes through each element in turn with facts about their discovery and the science about how they impact our everyday lives." (Read my review.)

    Don't Flush: Lifting the Lid on the Science of Poo and Wee by Richard & Mary Platt [Kingfisher – An imprint of Macmillan Children's Books, 2012; Amazon UK]
    The publisher says: This book is a light-hearted, yet highly informative study of two of the most natural human resources in the world -- poo and wee. Throughout history, the products of our bladder and bowels have helped us to build houses, wash and dye our clothes, fertilize crops, treat illnesses, solve crimes, control pollution and create fuel, energy and explosives. These pages show you how, and tell you some fascinating stories at the same time. Illustrated with brilliantly fun artworks and endearing characters, you'll be entertained by wizards using 'magical urine', soldiers fighting with exploding piles of dung, wee-wielding beauty therapists and much more.
    My fellow judges and I said: "A light-hearted but informative look at the science behind the use of poo and wee throughout history to build houses, wash and dye our clothes, fertilize crops, treat illnesses, solve crimes, control pollution and create fuel, energy and explosives. A perfectly disgusting book: Kids will love it!" (Read my review.)

    Human Body Factory by Dan Green [Kingfisher – An imprint of Macmillan Children's Books, 2012; Amazon UK; Amazon US]
    The publisher says: Human anatomy has never been as entertaining as this look at a day in the busy human body factory. From the CEO sending out orders in the brain to "waste" being sorted and delivered out of the body at the other end, the busy workers who keep everything running smoothly introduce each 'department.' All the major systems are covered, and the ingenious illustrations are packed with humorous details that kids will love to pore over. All of this amazing artwork is backed up with fascinating facts and clear explanations of the body's essential processes. Whether it's toxic signs and workers wearing biohazard suits in the large intestine, lab workers in dinghies mixing gastric juices in the stomach with a giant whisk, or park keepers on the skin keeping things clean among glades of gently swaying hairs and sweat-gland sprinklers, we promise that kids will never think about their bodies in the same way again.
    My fellow judges and I said: "This book is intricately illustrated with tiny factory workers who explain how each part of the body works. It is the 'Where's Wally?' of the human body; you keep noticing comic little details such as the workers in dinghies mixing gastric juices in the stomach with a giant whisk! As well as being fun, we were also impressed by the level of accurate scientific detail. (Read my review.)

    Look inside space by Rob Lloyd Jones [Usborne Publishing, 2012; Amazon UK; Amazon US]
    The publisher says: This is a great fun flap book packed with interesting information about space, and the amazing things that float through it - stars, moons, comets, and the planets of our solar system. Each double-page spread has a stunning colour illustration, and several flaps to lift to find out more about what's going on in the scene - such as what goes inside the International Space Station, how astronauts visited the Moon and what they did there, as well as the history of astronomy, from Galileo to the Hubble Space Telescope.
    My fellow judges and I said: "A fantastically interactive book for younger children. Full of flaps to lift (and flaps under flaps) that reveal amazing facts about space!" (Read my review.)

Now that the shortlisted six have been selected, they are at this very moment being boxed up and mailed out more than 100 groups of children across the UK who will make final choice for this year's grand prize winner. So if you are a member of a reading group who is choosing your favourite, these books will be arriving very soon in the post.

The Young People's Book Prize celebrates the best English-language books that communicate science to young people up to age fourteen. These books had to be published in the UK within the previous year.

The winner will be announced on 11th November 2013.

My fellow judges were a witty, clever and supremely qualified group of people whom I was lucky to meet:

  • Professor John Goodby FRS – Chemist at the University of York researching liquid crystals.
  • Dr Jenny Read – University Research Fellow at the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University researching visual perception.
  • Shazia Lydon – Assistant Headteacher at Challney High School For Boys, Luton.
  • Simon Watt – Science communicator and presenter of Inside Nature's Giants on Channel 4.
  • And yours truly: GrrlScientist - an evolutionary biologist, ornithologist and science blog writer for the Guardian.

The Royal Society and all my fellow panelists are grateful to the generous support provided by an anonymous donor for this very important prize. So now we are turning the show over to the true experts -- children -- to learn their decision!

"WOOT! We can't wait!"

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NOTE: this piece was edited slightly from the original, which was posted on the Guardian.

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GrrlScientist is an evolutionary biologist, ornithologist and freelance science writer who writes about the interface between evolution, ethology and ecology, especially in birds. As a judge who helped select the 2013 Royal Society Young People's Book Prize shortlist, she also has a deep passion for good books, especially good science books, which she reviews with some regularity. You can follow Grrlscientist's work on her eponymous Guardian blog, and also on facebook, G+, LinkedIn, Pinterest and of course, twitter: @GrrlScientist

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