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​​The De Bary Children's Science Book Award

The committee for the American Phytopathological Society's DeBary Award for Outstanding Children's Science Books is happy to announce the 2019 winners.  For youngest readers, we recommended family participation in lunar observation with Breakfast Moon; for intermediate readers we enjoyed being prepared with Scientists get Dressed; for older readers we recommended Digging Deep into archeology.  As always, we pick “winners" because it's expected, but we trust parents to look at the list of books and have an idea which ones will suit their children.  

For Youngest Children (Ages 5-8):

Little Otter Learns To Swim by Artie Knapp (Author), Guy Hobbs (Illustrator). 2018. Hardcover (15.95) and Kindle ($9.99).  Ohio University Press. Ages 6-8.

“Little Otter" is really a rhymed story book about a baby otter's first river swim, not a science book.  It does, however, have an appendix with facts about river otters and how to protect their habitat.

Winner: Breakfast Moon by Meg Gower (author) and David Barker (illustrator). 2018. Library edition ($29.00) and softcover ($14.95). The Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Ages 4-8.

“Breakfast Moon" is a charming book that shows how a family can track the movement and phases of the moon together as a project.  The book is rather slight, however, so grownups will need to go online for a comprehensive explanation of lunar phases so they can field questions that children are bound to ask.

The Forest in the Trees by Connie McLennan.  2019. Hardcover ($17.95), paperback ($9.95), Kindle ($6.95). Arbordale Publishing. Ages 5-6.

“The Forest in the Trees" discusses the plants and animals found in the canopy of coast redwood forests.  There are good illustrations and lots of facts in marginal texts, the whole thing enriched (or possibly marred) by the inclusion of poetry based on “The house that Jack built".  The marginal text seems too hard for the targeted 5-6 age group to understand and the poetry too childish for an older age group, but a parent reading and explaining may make this work. Appendix of facts and quiz questions at the end.

How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships by Robin Page and Steve Jenkins. 2013.  Hardcover ($17.08), paperback ($7.99), Kindle ($11.99). HMH Books for Young Readers Ages: 6-9.

How to Clean a Hippopotamus" is a picture book about symbiotic relationships among animals that goes beyond the usual examples (like clownfish + sea anemones) to partnerships like warthogs + mongooses, falcons + weaver birds.  The pictures are good and the text is good, with more information in an appendix.

Ice Queen: Exploring Icebergs and Glaciers (Imagine That!) by Anna Prokos (Author), Jamie Tablason (Illustrator).  2017.  Library Edition ($26.65), paperback ($7.99), Kindle ($7.99). Red Chair Press. Ages 6-9.

In “Ice Queen", young Nora daydreams that she could be a queen in an ice cream fantasy land; instead, she is thrown into a fact-filled Antarctic.   We wished Nora had daydreamed some warmer clothing.  An appendix at the back gives more interesting facts about Antarctica.

Who Will Roar If I Go? by Paige Jaeger (Author), Carol Hill Quirk (Illustrator).  2018.  Hardcover ($18.95).  BQB Publishing. Ages 5-7.

“Who will Roar" has nice watercolors of endangered species and asks for conservation efforts, but provides no science.​

For Middle Readers (Ages 9-12):

Animal Antipodes and Beastly Biomes by Carly Allen-Fletcher 2019. Hardcover ($17.99). Creston Books. Ages 7-11.

In “Animal Antipodes", the idea is to pick a place and then look at what's on the other side of the world from it.  This is mildly diverting and introduces children to some of the charismatic places in the world and the less-well-known places directly opposite to them.  The book has little text and is illustrated with abstract watercolors that aren't very clear to anyone not already familiar with the place, its geology and its animals, which somewhat defeats the purpose of the book.

“Beastly Biomes" is by the same author and illustrator as “Antipodes" and has the same problems: scanty text and pleasant watercolors that don't clearly illustrate the biomes or the ecological interactions of its animals, with short-shrift to the plants (as botanists, we know biomes are really defined by plants).​

Just Right: Searching for the Goldilocks Planet by Curtis Manley (Author), Jessica Lanan (Illustrator). 2019.  Hardcover 18.99, Kindle 9.99.  Roaring Brook Press.  Ages: 5-9.

“Just Right" is a book about the search for exoplanets that might harbor life, and would be a nice book for kids who like astronomy and extraterrestrials.  It's structured as a trip by a family to a very nice planetarium exhibit.  There's a section of additional speculation and further reading at the back.

Winner: Scientists get Dressed by Deborah Lee Rose (Author), Caroline Watkins (Editor), Shan Stumpf (Designer). 2019. Hardcover ($19.95). Persnickety Press. Ages 5-13.​

“Scientists get Dressed" solves the problem of what to wear in Antarctica, in a redwood canopy, in volcanos or outer space or anywhere else a scientist would do research.  It shows photographs of a diverse group of scientists pursuing their work in a way that ought to inspire kids and also teach them to use the right equipment for any job.  Additional sections at the back ask questions and discuss how kids can become citizen scientists.

When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex by Toni Buzzeo (Author), Diana Sudyka (Illustrator). 2019.  Hardcover ($17.99), Kindle ($15.54). Abrams Books for Young Readers.  Ages 6-10.

“When Sue Found Sue" tells the story of how Sue Hendrickson discovered the largest and most complete T-rex skeleton.  It highlights in free verse how a shy and bookish child became an adventurous young woman.  There is little science fact in the book but nice illustrations and lots of empowerment.

What's Going Down in Prairie Dog Town by Alan Bartels. 2018.  Hardcover ($14.95).  Mascot Books.  Ages 10-12. 

“What's Going Down in Prairie Dog Town" has an introduction by Jane Goodall, so she must have liked it, but it anthropomorphizes the prairie dogs too much to be called a science book.  It is a call for conservation, and that's fine.  Parents will need to tell children that prairie dogs don't have suitcases.​

​​For Older Readers (Ages 16+):

Winner: Digging Deep How Science Unearths Puzzles from the Past by Laura Scandiffio. 2019. Hardcover ($24.74), paperback ($14.95). Annick Press.

“Digging Deep" is an excellent book for older readers, explaining archeology through six examples, including a discussion of Otzi the stone-age Alpine traveler thawed from the ice, the discovery of Chauvet Paleolithic cave paintings in France, and the recent discovery of Richard III's burial place in England.  Each chapter describes an archeological story and ends with a section called “What we thought we knew, and what we now know", a useful concept for young scientists.​

The Story of my Quantum Quest: A simple explanation of the concepts of Quantum Mechanics through interesting thought experiments by Lalitha Nath.  2018.  Paperback ($9.00), Kindle ($9.00).  Independently published.  

“Quantum Quest" explores Einsteinian Relativity and quantum mechanics.  Our guest reviewer who understands these things said he thought there was enough material for three books in it, and that it might overwhelm children.  Some of us were overwhelmed.

Web Watching: A Guide to Webs & the Spiders That Make Them by Larry Weber. 2018. Paperback ($16.95). Stone Ridge Press.

“Web Watching" is not a children's book, but it's written by a naturalist who's taught science to both middle school students and senior citizens, and he makes this book fascinating for anyone who isn't terrified of close-up photographs of spiders.  He categorizes spiders by web-type and makes you want to drop everything and take a walk looking for webs and their denizens. Highly recommended for young naturalists and their parents.

X is for Xenopus: A Model Organism ABC Book by Marisa Claire Yadon. 2019.  Paperback ($11.95). Independently published.​

“X is for Xenopus" is an alphabet book comprised of organisms used as experimental models, and, yes, A is for Arabidopsis.  The illustrations are incredibly beautiful, and each organism is described and its contribution to science highlighted.  Not in any way a children's book, but kids might pick it up and ask questions.


Thanks to our committee: Margot Becktell, Albert Culbreath, Megan Daniels, Margery Daughtrey, Margaret McGrath, Chuanxe Hong, Cristi Palmer, Diana Sherman, Nina Shishkoff, and Dong-Xiu Zhang plus guest children and guest judge Michael Burckardt. Nominations will be accepted for the next De Bary list of outstanding children's science books through July 2020.   We are accepting good science books in all languages (but would appreciate the nomination of guest judges, preferably APS members, who speak the language).  We cannot accept free copies of books, but we are happy to look at pdf versions sent by email (which only judges and selected children will read).  Contact Nina Shishkoff at