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 younger readers, we recommend Astronauts Zoom! An Astronaut Alphabet; for intermediate readers, You're Invited to a Moth Ball – A Nighttime Insect Celebration; for all readers, What Is Coronavirus? How It Infects, How It Spreads and How to Stay Safe. 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 (5–7 years old)
WINNER: Astronauts Zoom! An Astronaut Alphabet by Deborah Rose. 2021. Persnickety Press, VC Baker & Taylor Publisher Services. Ages 2–7. Hardcover: $16.95
We like alphabet books that are age-appropriate, and this one would be great to read to space-loving toddlers or to give to space-loving young readers. Our judges liked the excellent layout of photographs of astronauts doing stuff (e.g., Awaken, Brush their teeth, etc.).
Earth Hour: A Lights-Out Event for Our Planet by Nanette Heffernan, illustrated by Bao Luu. 2020. Charlesbridge. Ages 3–7. Hardcover: $11.99
This book tells kids about the annual "Earth Hour," when everybody turns out lights for one hour to symbolize the need to save energy. Does this really happen? None of us had ever heard of Earth Hour, but the illustrations of people in cities around the world turning out lights and witnessing natural beauty are splendid. Our 8-year-old sample child liked this one the best.
Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones by Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Bob Kolar. 2020. Charlesbridge. Ages 4-8. Hardcover: $15.60
One judge said "The book seems designed for reading to one 10 year old and one 4 years old at the same time" and that's the problem: there are lively illustrations of kids participating in a paleontological dig, with the main text intended to be sung to 'Here we go round the mulberry bush.'" However, the explanatory text below provides good information about paleontology (and our sample child liked those). It's your call if you want to sing this book.
Rare & Blue – Finding Nature's Treasures by Constance Van Hoven, illustrated by Alan Marks. 2020. Charlesbridge. Ages 5–9. Hardcover: $18.99
Random blue things (lobsters, butterflies) are celebrated in watercolors. Not really scientific, but one judge said, "This book aims to give young people a sense of wonder and an appreciation for rarity."
Welcome Home, Whales written and illustrated by Christina Booth. 2021. Blue Dot Kids Press. Ages 4–9. Hardcover: $17.95
A child dreams of the return of a whale from its yearly migration. Few scientific facts are provided, but the illustrations are nice, and the sample child liked the story. One judge said, "It's not going to inspire scientists, but it will make people think about the need to watch out for the whales."
For Middle Readers (8–12 years old)
Monster in the Water—Fighting Back Against Harmful Algal Blooms by Dylan D'Agate, illustrated by Maria DeCerce. 2021. Get Creative 6. Ages 6–10. Hardcover: $14.95
This book was written by a 16-year-old to warn other kids about algal blooms and how to prevent them. It has some scientific facts slightly nullified by the illustrator's insistence on putting angry yellow eyes on the algal bloom.
This Is a Book to Read with a Worm by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen, illustrated by Margaret McCartney. 2020. Charlesbridge. Ages 5–10. Hardcover: $16.99
This book encourages kids to find a worm and do simple experiments with it (shine a light on it, expose it to alcohol). Many of the judges liked the scientific spirit, but we recommend it for older kids and hope that parents buying this book will chaperone the worm to make sure it doesn't experience trauma. Our sample child's mother was not thrilled that the child wanted to try this.
WINNER: You're Invited to a Moth Ball—A Nighttime Insect Celebration by Loree Griffin Burns, photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz. 2020. Charlesbridge. Ages 5–8. Hardcover: $13.38
This book invites you to take a white sheet, an ultraviolet light, and a few other pieces of equipment and hold a moth observation party. We all loved this book and recommend it to parents with this proviso: if you buy the book, you're going to need to do this, so be prepared to get that ultraviolet light (our sample child pretty firmly wanted to do this next camping trip). One judge noted that this book didn't provide specific recommendations for city kids, but anywhere with a park should be fine.
Who Needs a Forest Fire? by Paula Henson, illustrated by Sue Todd and Emily Underwood. 2021. Terra Bella Books. Ages 5–10. Paperback: $16.99
This book explains the complicated story of forest fires: they are needed to allow many ecosystems to thrive, but not when the fires are hotter and more frequent as they are spurred by human interference and global warming. Good information and illustrations.
For older readers (through 16 years old) or all ages
Herbaria—A Guide for Young People written and illustrated by Kelly LaFarge. 2021. The University of Chicago Press. Hardcover: $19.95
One of the judges said, "I would imagine this is the only one of its kind": a book about herbariums for kids. It's fact-filled and loaded with photographs and illustrations and perhaps intended to be dipped into rather than read. It covers the history of plant collecting and how plant samples are stored and where, but it overlooks the importance of herbaria in providing genomic information.
Our World—Out of Balance by Andrea Minoglio, illustrated by Laura Fanelli. 2021. Blue Dot Kids Press. Ages 8–12. Hardcover: $21.95
This is a book for children about how humanity's actions are changing the planet, and it is comprehensive. It states a topic (e.g., extreme weather, pollution, animal extinction), depicts it with extremely good graphics, summarizes it in the text and then describes what people are doing to fix it, and what you (a kid) can do to help. The judges found some inaccuracies in the information, and while we think Greta Thunberg would like it, it is very, very depressing.
The Stardust Mystery by Peter Solomon. 2021. Thebeamer LLC. Ages 7–12. Paperback: $25.99; and The Race to the Big Bang—The Stardust Mystery Project by Peter Solomon. 2021. Thebeamer LLC. Ages 13–18. Paperback: $20.49
These are adventure stories featuring a cast of school kids who are competing in science contests. The illustrations are meant to look like video games, so they didn't appeal to us but perhaps will appeal to the target audience. As scientists, we wanted to see kids motivated by a sense of wonder, not by a big prize.
WINNER: What Is Coronavirus? How It Infects, How It Spreads and How to Stay Safe written and illustrated by Saffithry Persad. 2021. Firewater Media Group. Ages 12–18. Paperback: $17.95
This is a timely introduction to virology and epidemiology. One judge said, "[There is] enough information about viruses generally that it will continue to be worth recommending," but pointed out that some of the information is already out-of-date. Another judge praised the good use of illustrations.
Thanks 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, plus our guest child. Nominations will be accepted for the next De Bary list of outstanding children's science books through July 2022. 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.
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