Link to home

The DeBary Children's Science Book Award

DeBary Childrens Science Book Award
The K-12 education children's book committee reads children's science books and awards the best the DeBary Awards. There is a slight bias towards botany and biological science, but books on all topics, from Astronomy to Zoology, are considered. Nominators should submit the title and author of the book and briefly explain the merits of the book. Nominations can come from APS members or nonmembers. The committee will read nominated books and select the best. We cannot accept free copies of books, but we are happy to look at pdf versions sent by email. Contact Nina Shishkoff at


2018 DeBary Outstanding Children's Science Book Winners

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.  Since the APS meeting was held in conjunction with the International Congress of Plant Pathology, we tried especially hard to come up with an international list of children’s science books. We didn’t completely like the science in our books for youngest readers, but we have a winner for middle readers (How Plants and Trees Work: A Hands-On Guide to the Natural World by Christiane Dorion and Beverley Young) and a winner for older readers (Rewilding: Giving Nature a Second Chance by Jane Drake and Ann Love).

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 Older Children (through 15 years old):


Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact
Author: Jennifer Swanson
Graphic designer: Antonio Caparo
Publisher: National Geographic Children's Books
Released: 2018.
Price: $18.99 
Ages: 8 - 12 yr
What APS members said about this book: A book that compares space and ocean exploration (two things kids like that have thought-provoking similarities) and includes activities of varying quality to demonstrate physical laws or engineering challenges.  Not quite as inspiring as it could have been, but solid.

The Book of Massively Epic Engineering Disasters: 33 Thrilling Experiments Based on History's Greatest Blunders
Author: Sean Connolly
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company
Released: 2017
Price: $10.46
Ages: 9 - 14 years
What APS members said about this book: This book describes disasters from the collapse of the Collosus of Rhodes to the deflation of the Astrodome, and provides cartoony illustrations, trivia facts and biographical sketches.  It also supplies instructions for experiments to demonstrate the engineering principles.  The experiments are of varying quality and duration (complete in minutes or days; time estimates listed in the back).  Designed for both boys and girls.

Strange But True! Our Weird, Wild, Wonderful World
Author: Andrea Mills
Publisher: DK Publishing, Penguin Random House Company
Released: 2015.
Hardcover: $19.99
Ages: 8 - 12 years
What APS members said about this book: A book of random facts that’s a little busy but has nice pictures and interesting facts from all areas of science: botany, zoology, meteorology and anthropology.

Rewilding: Giving Nature a Second Chance [winner]
Authors: Jane Drake and Ann Love
Annick Press
Released: 2017
Price: $12.95
Ages: 9 - 12 years

What APS members said about this book: Comprehensive look at habitat restoration and reintroduction of native species (including condors, wolves and woolly mammoths!), with very good photographs. Introduces many ecological concepts to the reader. Includes a glossary, further reading, and an index.

Vélmennaárásin (the Robot Attack)
Author: Aevar Thór Benediktsson
Illustrator: Rán Flygenring
ublisher: Forlagid Publishing
Released: 2016
Ages: 7-13 years
Language: Icelandic
What APS members said about this book: 
 Delightful further adventures of young Aevar the scientist, with some introductory material on computer coding, but with more emphasis on robot attacks.  Our Icelandic translator enjoyed it a lot.

For Middle Readers (8-10 years old):

Charlotte's Bones: The Beluga Whale in a Farmer's Field  
Author: Erin Rounds
Illustrator: Alison Carver

Publisher Tilbury House Publishers
Released 2018,
Age level: : 8 - 10 years
Price: $17.95

What APS members said about these books: Strangely touching book about the State Fossil of Vermont, a whale skeleton discovered in 1849 that helped naturalists demonstrate that the Earth was geologically ancient and constantly changing. The book begins with the whale’s life 12,000 years ago, and shows her death and fossilization (might be disturbing to some readers, or it might be a way to introduce dinosaur-loving kids to the concept of death), then describes her discovery and final fate as a beloved museum exhibit. Our judges liked the language and the interesting way to explain geology. There are explanatory texts and a glossary at the end.

Destroy This Book in the Name of Science! Brainiac Edition
Written by Mike Barfield
Released: 2018
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers

Ages: 7 - 9 years
Price: $12.99

Lots of cut-and-fold activities that are roughly scientific, and that our judges found more interesting than average. 

Expedition to the Galápagos Islands   
Author: Grayson Rigby

Released: 2017
Published: Salty Paws Publishing

Ages: 4 – 8 years
Price: $15.95

What APS members said about these books: The author was 8 years old when he visited the Galapagos and wrote a travel diary. It’s not clear who took the spectacular photographs, but it’s a charming book and might inspire children to write their own travel diaries. Includes explanatory texts and glossary at the end.

Fire Bird: The Kirtland's Warbler Story    
Author: Amy S. Hansen
Illustrator: Janet W. OliverPublisher: Arbutus Press
Released: 2017

Ages: 7-10 years
Price: $18.95

What APS members said about these books: This book is about the endangered Kirtland’s warbler, which only nests in newly-burned pine scrub. It has nice illustrations and is not very scientific until the endnotes and suggested further reading.

The flying rivers: An Amazon adventure tracing the world's largest source of fresh water (Os rios voadores, Portuguese edition)    
Author: Yana Marull Publisher: Terra Books
Released: 2017

Ages: 7-10 years
Kindle Edition $4.99

What APS members said about this book: A sweet and sincere book describing the Amazon rain forest, its ecology and the dangers facing it, illustrated with child-like watercolors in brilliant colors. Our judges wished for a few photographs. Includes a not-very-helpful glossary.

How Plants and Trees Work: A Hands-On Guide to the Natural World [winner]
Author: Christiane Dorion Illustrator: Beverley Young

Publisher: Templar
Released: 2017
Ages: 7 - 10 years
Price: $15.85

What APS members said about this book: We are suckers for pop-up books, and this is a botanical one filled with facts and clever pop-ups.

Journey through the Brain    
Authors: David Cotter, Lorna Lopez, Eoin Kelleher, Helen Coughlan, Mary Cannon
Released: 2016
Publisher: Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
Age Level: Ages 10-Adult? (Free download).

What APS members said about this book: This tries to teach brain biology through the medium of coloring books; the illustrations look reasonably color-able and are quite strange; if you have the right kid, this will be great fun. Comes with an online user’s manual and a teacher’s guide.

Motley Farm: It’s in their DNA   
Author: Suzanne Duce, Ruth Thomas, Dipa Natarajan
Released: 2018 Publisher: Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
Ages: 8-12 year
Price: Kindle Edition $2.99

What APS members said about this book: A confused blend of “Charlotte’s Web”, “Animal Farm” and genetic engineering, in which farm animals try to escape an evil chemical company bent on exploiting on them. There’s nothing wrong with the science per se, and it tries to be even-handed about GMOs, but features talking animals who can read. Our judges thought it might be confusing as science.

Scholastic Explora Tu Mundo: Insectos y Otras Criaturas: (Spanish language edition of Scholastic Discover More: Bugs)    
Author: Penelope Arlon
Released: 2012 Publisher: Scholastic en Espanol 2013
Ages: 6-10 year
Age Level: Ages 10-Adult?
Price: $12.99

What APS members said about this book: If your child reads Spanish, the Spanish version is more scientifically accurate with the title “Insects and other creatures” and a definition of “arthropod”; the English title is “Bugs” and stubbornly uses the term for arthropods, worms and mollusks. [There is no need to talk down to children; they LIKE knowing a spider is not an insect!] Provides good photographs and interesting facts; all the judges liked it. Glossary and index.

What Is A Lionfish?: A Local Science by a Local Scientist series   
Author: Latrece Johnson
Released: 2018
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Ages: 6-8 year
Price: $10.00

What APS members said about this book:A book about an invasive fish species with spectacular photographs, perhaps better suited for book reports than recreational reading, since it lacks narrative drive and context. Aimed at a difficult-to-reach young reader demographic.

For Your Youngest Children (2-6 years old):

Tadpole to frog
Author: American Museum of Natural History
Released: 2017

Publisher: Sterling Children's Books
Age Level: 2-4 years
Price: $7.66

What APS members said about this book: This is an ingenious board book with graduated tabs showing the transformation from egg to tadpole to frog. It’s hard to find good science books for very young kids, and we loved the pictures, but the text was scientifically incorrect. Parents will need to fill in useful information like how it’s the female frog who lays the eggs. 

Bugs I've Met through the Alphabet
Author: Amy Tietjen
Released: 2018

Publisher: Vabella Publishing
Age Level: unclear
Price: $16.95

What APS members said about this book: A whimsical alphabet book with watercolors of anthropomorphized arthropods and invertebrates (not “bugs”, PLEASE). Not scientific until you get to the appendix, where a list of the actual organisms is given with photographs and descriptions. It’s not clear what age group would be appropriate for this book, since alphabet books are designed for young children who won’t appreciate the whimsy. 

Thanks to our committee: Margot Becktell, Albert Culbreath, Megan Daniels, Margery Daughtrey, Margaret McGrath, Chuanxe Hong, Cristi Palmer, Diana Sherman, Nina Shishkoff, plus guest children and guest judge James McGarry, a Canadian IT specialist with 4 children and an ability to read Icelandic; also all the volunteers who came to our committee meeting at the APS annual meeting in Boston. Nominations will be accepted for the next De Bary list of outstanding children’s science books through July 2019. We are accepting good science book 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