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 2015 Finalists 

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The AAAS/Subaru Prize for Excellence in Science Books celebrates outstanding science writing and illustration for children and young adults. The prizes, meant to encourage the writing and publishing of high-quality science books for all age groups, are awarded in four categories: Children’s Science Picture Books, Middle Grades Science Books, Young Adult Science Book and Hands-on Science/Activity Book. One book will be chosen as the winner in each category, and the authors will be honored at the 2015 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Jose, CA. In the Children's Science Picture Book category, both the author and illustrator will be honored. Here are the finalists:

Children’s Science Picture Books

Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth, by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm. NY: The Blue Sky Press, 2014.

Acclaimed Caldecott artist and author Molly Bang teams up with award-winning M.I.T. professor Penny Chisholm to present the fascinating, timely story of fossil fuels. What are fossil fuels, and how did they come to exist? This engaging, stunning book explains how coal, oil, and gas are really "buried sunlight," trapped beneath the surface of our planet for millions and millions of years. Now, in a very short time, we are digging them up and burning them, changing the carbon balance of our planet's air and water. Using simple language and breathtaking paintings, Bang and Chisholm present a clear, concise explanation of the fossil-fuel energy cycle that began with the sun and now runs most of our transportation and energy use in our world.

Have You Heard the Nesting Bird, by Rita Gray, illustrated by Kenard Park. NY: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2014.

In this book, we hear all the different bird calls in counterpoint to the pervasive quiet of a mama bird waiting for her eggs to hatch. While the sparrow, the woodpecker, the swallow, and other birds sing with joyous abandon, the mother robin quietly sits and waits. This lovely book helps children understand why. Fun and informative back matter takes the shape of an interview so that readers learn more right from the bird’s "bill." Ken Pak’s expressive illustrations, paired with Rita Gray’s melodious text, create what is sure to be an enduring picture book to be read and enjoyed by young naturalists again and again.

Parrots Over Puerto Rico, by Susan L. Roth, Cindy Trumbore, illustrated by Susan L. Roth. NY: Lee & Low Books, 2013

Puerto Rican parrots lived on the island for millions of years, and then they nearly vanished from the earth forever. In this compelling (and visually stunning) book, Roth and Trumbore recount the efforts of the scientists of the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program to save the parrots and ensure their future. Woven into the parrot’s story is a brief history of the island, from before the first human settlers to the present day. With striking collage illustrations, a unique format, and engaging storytelling, Parrots Over Puerto Rico invites readers to witness the amazing recovery efforts that have enabled Puerto Rican parrots to fly over their island once again.

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes, by Nicola Davies, illus. by Emily Sutton. Somerville,  MA: Candlewick, 2014.

All around the world — in the sea, in the soil, in the air, and in your body — there are living things so tiny that millions could fit on an ant’s antenna. They’re busy doing all sorts of things, from giving you a cold and making yogurt to eroding mountains and helping to make the air we breathe. If you could see them with your eye, you’d find that they all look different, and that they’re really good at changing things into something else and at making many more microbes like themselves! From Nicola Davies comes a first exploration for young readers of the world’s tiniest living organisms. Emily Sutton's endearing illustrations make this important scientific subject engaging to the youngest readers.

Middle Grades Science Book

The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery, by Sandra Markle.  Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press, 2013.

Honeybees are a crucial part of our food chain. As they gather nectar from flowers to make sweet honey, these bees also play an important role in pollination, helping some plants produce fruit. But large numbers of honeybees are disappearing every year...and no one knows why. Is a fungus killing them? Could a poor diet be the cause? What about changes to bees' natural habitat? In this real-life science mystery, scientists and beekeepers are working to answer these questions...and save the world's honeybees before it's too late. Another great addition to Markle's critically acclaimed series.

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines, by Paul Fleischman.  Somerville, MA: Candlewick: 2014.

Paul Fleischman offers teens an environmental wake-up call and a tool kit for decoding the barrage of conflicting information confronting them. Science, politics, history, and psychology are joined to provide the briefing needed to comprehend the 21st century Take 250 years of human ingenuity. Add abundant fossil fuels. The result: a population and lifestyle never before seen and in which suddenly everything needs rethinking – suburbs, cars, fast food, cheap prices. This book explains the changing world, clearly articulating the principles driving attitudes and events that have brought us to this point, to the young audience whose future will be most affected by these changes.

Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey, By: Loree Griffin Burns Illustrated By: Ellen Harasimowicz.  Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press, 2014.

You may have seen the butterfly life cycle before in books, but never quite like this. How do you raise a butterfly? Award-winning team Burns and Harasimowicz take readers to a butterfly farm in Costa Rica and show how it’s done. Stunning photographs and informative, engaging text show how workers care for these delicate, winged creatures as they change from eggs to caterpillars to pupae. Like any other crop, the butterflies will eventually leave the farm. But where will they go? And just how do you ship a butterfly? Very carefully! To discover how it works, follow these butterflies on a remarkable journey!

Mission: Mars, by Pascal Lee. NY: Scholastic, 2013.

Lee, a planetary scientist with the Mars Institute and the SETI Institute, explains what it takes to send humans to Mars--from spacesuits and rovers to surviving subzero temperatures and raging dust storms. The United States plans to send astronauts to Mars around 2035, and MISSION: MARS shows kids how they could start training to join the first crew to the Red Planet! Lee shows the "Future Mars Explorers" the latest designs for spacesuits and exploration rovers. Readers will also learn how to navigate a spaceship, search for alien life, and get a up-close look at some of the world's leading space scientists at work. Mission: Mars is visually-driven and written in exciting kid-friendly language. It acts as both a training manual and a reference book for future Mars explorers!

Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, by Patricia Newman, illustrated by Annie Crawley Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press, 2014.

Plastic is used to make everything from drink bottles and bags to toys and toothbrushes. But what happens when it ends up where it doesn't belong—like in the Pacific Ocean? How does it affect ocean life? Is it dangerous? And exactly how much is out there?  A team of researchers went on a scientific expedition to find out by exploring the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where millions of pieces of plastic have collected.  For nearly three weeks at sea, researchers gathered bits of plastic and ocean organisms. These samples helped them learn more about the effects of plastic in the ocean. Follow along on the expedition to find out how scientists studied the Garbage Patch—and what alarming discoveries they made.

Hands-on Science Book

Junk Drawer Physics: 50 Awesome Experiments that Don’t Cost a Thing, by Bobby Mercer. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2014.

Physics teacher Bobby Mercer provides readers with more than 50 great hands-on experiments that can be performed for just pennies, or less. Each project has a materials list, detailed step-by-step instructions with illustrations, and a brief explanation of the scientific principle being demonstrated. Junk Drawer Physicsalso includes sidebars of fascinating physics facts, such as did you know the Eiffel Tower is six inches taller in summer than in winter because its steel structure expands in the heat? Educators and parents will find this title a handy resource to teach children about physics topics that include magnetism, electricity, force, motion, light, energy, sound, and more, and have fun at the same time.

Kids Guide to Exploring Nature, by Brooklyn Botanic Educators. NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2014

This gorgeously illustrated guide will inspire children to look closely at the world around them! Created by the experts at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, it teaches children how to observe environments as a naturalist does and leads them on 24 adventures that reveal the complex ecosystems of plants and animals in the woods, at the beach, and in a city park. Detailed, scientifically based drawings help young scientists identify hundreds of North American plants and animals, while dozens of fun projects include keeping a journal, conducting field experiments, and exploring nature with all five senses. It is a guide book, an inspiring environmental primer, a call to action, and a hands-on science.

Plant a Pocket of Prairie, by Phyllis Root. (Illus. by Betsy Bowen). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minn. Press, 2014.

This inspiring and exquisite children’s book introduces children to the endangered prairie ecosystem and how we can help restore it. Phyllis Root and Betsy Bowen take young readers on a trip to one of Minnesota’s important ecosystems—the prairie—teaching children how changes in one part of the system affect every other part. The book shows what happens when we work to restore the prairies, encouraging readers to “plant a pocket of prairie” in their own backyards. 10 pages of detailed and informative back matter provide information that can be shared by parents and teachers, and also extend the appeal of the book to upper elementary aged students and above.

Young Adult Science Book  

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert. NY: Henry Holt, 2014.

Award winning journalist and author Kolbert blends field reporting with natural and intellectual history to reveal the mass extinction that is already taking place on our planet. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept. For teen audiences, the book should encourage the discussion and understanding of scientific ideas through a writing style that is down-to-earth and full of explanations of even the more potentially confusing aspects of the science, such as the possible chemical reactions that lead to extinction.

Extreme Medicine: How Exploration Transformed Medicine in the Twentieth Century, by Kevin Fong. NY: The Penguin Press, 2014.

Fong’s strong narrative voice and his belief that medical discovery is akin to extreme geographical exploration bring the reader fully into a discussion of science, medical practice, and innovation.  He offers compelling stories of doctors and patients that include just enough detail to contextualize and educate without overwhelming. His passion for his work as a doctor and his clear compassion for the ill (or harmed) shows in every case he describes. His curiosity taps the reader’s curiosity. And, more than anything else, the unanswered questions invite young readers into the challenge of charting the future path of medicine.

 Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead, by David Casarett. NY: Current/Penguin Random House, 2014.

Casarett recounts his exploration of the science of resuscitation and shows how far the science has come.  His coverage of the history of resuscitation goes back to the 18th century, when early attempts at resuscitation involved public displays of barrel rolling, a form of horseback riding, and blowing tobacco smoke into the patient’s various orifices. The colorful history of resuscitation is a topic that is sure to be a fascinating one for young adult readers.  Casarett has included many first hand reports and stories that will appeal to young adult readers.  His writing style is lively and surprisingly humorous for a book on this topic.

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery, by Sam Kean. NY: Hachette/Little, Brown and Company, 2014.

Beginning in the 16th century with Henri II in France, and concluding with the 19th century life of Phineas Gage, Kean traces the history of neurosurgery through a series of biographical sketches covering individuals who have advanced our knowledge of the brain and how it works. Kean ties each to a development in neuroscience that leads to modern theories about the workings of the brain. Kean’s conversational and often humorous tone is engaging and a rebus providing an overview of each chapter asks readers to interact with the text.  Cases build one upon the other and Kean deftly draws connections between subjects and scientists across time.


The AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books is sponsored by Subaru. The prizes began in 2005 when four lifetime achievement awards were given to authors of children’s science books. It honored authors whose books promoted science literacy. Today, the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books continues to recognize stand-out science books.