The committee for The American Phytopathological Society's De Bary Award for Outstanding Children's Science Books is happy to announce this year's winners. For the youngest readers, we recommend A Drop of Water; for intermediate readers, we recommend Creek Critters; for all readers, we recommend Unseen Worlds. 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 (5–8 years old)
The Big Bang Book by Asa Stahl, illustrated by Carly Allen-Fletcher. 2020. Creston Books, LLC. Ages 4–9. $13.99
This starts with the Big Bang and moves on to the present with bold and colorful illustrations and accurate (for the age group) facts. Parents should read the “Author's Note" in the back to be prepared for additional questions. A judge said, “Big concepts for little minds."
Child of the Universe by Ray Jayawardhana, illustrated by Raul Colón. 2020. Make Me a World. Ages 3–7. $17.99
A young girl is tucked into bed and the first line is, “My father says I am made of stars." It never gets any more scientific than that, but it is empowering for young children. One judge said, “I liked the illustrations, the nice, simple but accurate sentences, and the bonding of the father with the girl through sharing science."
WINNER: A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder by Walter Wick. 1997. Scholastic Press; Ages 4–8. $19.99
This is a particularly good example of this type of book: it presents the properties of water (surface tension, capillary action, freezing, etc.) with excellent photographs. It ends with a discussion of Earth's water cycle and instructions to carry out many of the demonstrations photographed for the book (how to get condensation, how to float a needle on the surface of water, etc.). One judge said, “I think it might encourage kids to recreate what they see in the photos by themselves, and that is great!" The publisher says ages 4–8; we think it is appropriate up to age 12.
Let's Learn about Chemistry by Stephanie Ryan, Ph.D., illustrated by Christine Cagara. 2020. Ryan Education Consulting LLC. Ages 5–6. $13.99
We couldn't see real 5–6 year olds warming up to this book about imaginary toddlers with unlikely knowledge about chemistry. It does try to make chemistry intelligible to a young age group, however.
Secrets of the Loon by Laura Purdie Salas and Chuck Dayton. 2020. Minnesota Historical Society Press. Ages 3–7. $16.95
A loon egg hatches and we follow the young loon through the summer. Questionable poetry mixes with very good graphic design. There are a few paragraphs of information on loon biology at the end of the book.
For Middle Readers (9–12 years old)
Uma Aventura no Legado das ÁGUAS by Karolina von Sydow Domingues Gomes and Fátima Cardoso, with David Canassa, Kamilla Barboza Lopes, Daniela Gerdenits, Elaine Moura; graphic design and illustration: Rafael Agostinho and Rafa Camargo. Available online.
This comic book with distinctive and dynamic graphics was commissioned by a private park in Brazil to explain the water cycle to kids. Our Portuguese-speaking judges say the information is accurate. We've seen countless books on the water cycle, this is peppier than most.
WINNER: Creek Critters by Jennifer Keats Curtis and the Stroud Water Research Center, illustrated by Phyllis Saroff. 2020. Arbordale Publishing. Ages 8–12. Hardcover: $17.95; Paperback: $9.95; Spanish Paperback: $11.95
A brother and sister go to a stream and catch and observe stream invertebrates before releasing them back into the water. The judges liked this book for the interaction between the siblings and the suggestion to kids that they can be naturalists with only a net and a bucket. Our guest reviewer/invertebrate biologist thought it had a few minor scientific errors. Additional facts and instructions are provided at the back of the book.
Earth's Amazing Animals: Animal Top Ten: Animal Appetites and Earth's Amazing Animals: DEADLY WEAPONS Animal Superpowers Super Strength by Joanne Mattern, illustrated by Tim Haggerty. 2019. Red Chair Press LLC. Ages 6–10. $8.49 and $23.99These are books of random facts about animals with nice photographs, in a format allowing kids to pick the book up and read as much or as little as they want. A judge said, “I think this is a very good science book writer held back by the books being part of a series."
Finding Earthlike Planets (interactive edition) by Liz Kruesi. 2019. Weigl. Ages 8–12. $14.95
A straightforward book for space lovers about how exoplanets are being discovered, with lots of photographs and features on the scientists and online extras.
The Mütter Museum: A Junior Guide's Tour of America's Coolest Medical Museum by Anna Dhody, illustrated by Ted Enik and R. A. Herrera. 2020. Schiffer Kids. Illustrated edition. Ages 8–12. $16.99
A boy visits the Mütter Museum, and the ghosts of the exhibits explain themselves. This book tries to remind the reader that behind the museum's exhibits of anatomical oddities there are human beings, but the conceit might not work for you or your kids.
Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg. 2020. Creston Books, LLC. Ages 8–12. $18.99
This is a picture biography of the first woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics that required original research (1874), the first to hold a university chair in mathematics, and the first to be the editor of a major scientific journal. One judge said, “Perhaps we can recommend this one to mathematical fathers who want to inspire their daughters to consider following in their footsteps, now that the sex barriers have been lowered considerably." Another said, “My daughter (almost 9) liked this one the best. She liked that it was a true story. We recently watched 'Hidden Figures' so this struck similar chords. She is intrigued by the fact that women have not been treated well throughout history."
SeedPower: Discovering How Plants Grow by Anna Prokos, illustrated by Dave Clegg. 2017. Red Chair Press LLC. Ages 6–9. Hardcover: 27.75; Paperback $4.95
A boy enters a watermelon-eating contest and worries a seed will sprout in his stomach—a few facts about growing plants from seeds. We thought the book was well-intentioned with the inclusion of diverse children, but it didn't see the problem of portraying a black farmer in the context of watermelons.
For older readers (through 16 years old) or all ages
A to Z in the Deep Dark Sea written and illustrated by Paulina Barry. 2019. Miss Barry's Books. Ages 3–15. $14.99
Random facts about the deep sea limited by an arbitrary alphabet format. Followed by a list of sources. A judge said, “Nice illustrations that seem to be geared towards younger (3–6) readers, but the facts are more for older children."
Every Tree Has A Story (Un Arbre, une Histoire) by Cécile Benoist, illustrated by Charlotte Gaustaut. 2019. Downtown Bookworks; Co-edition France. Ages 3 and up. $19.99
The illustrations are fantastic, and there are some tree facts sprinkled in the text, which describes notable trees or notable acts by people defending trees. Not really for young children, not primarily scientific, but definitely for tree lovers.
WINNER: Unseen Worlds: Real-Life Microscopic Creatures Hiding All Around Us by Helene Rajcak, illustrated by Damien Laverdunt. 2019. What on Earth Books. All ages. $21.99
Each section shows a macroscopic scene (a beach, a bed of moss, a bed), and the page folds out to show you a microscopic close-up illustration of that scene. A beach becomes a jumble of sand grains, mites, tardigrades, and worms; human skin is shown as a habitat for ticks, mites, and fleas. Each illustration is a beautiful world to explore. Includes a history of microscopy and a brief explanation of taxonomy at the end. This book was a favorite for those of us who saw it in person.
Thank you to our committee: Margot Becktell, Vanina Castroagudin, Albert Culbreath, Megan Daniels, Margery Daughtrey, Margaret McGrath, Chuanxue Hong, Cristi Palmer, Kerry Pedley, Diana Sherman, Emily Smallwood, Nina Shishkoff, and Olivia Stanley, guest children, and guest judges Elizabeth Yuster and Bianca Hoch. Nominations will be accepted for the next De Bary list of outstanding children's science books through July 2021. 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 e-mail (which only judges and selected children will read). Contact Nina Shishkoff.
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