Waterstones Children's Laureate Cressida Cowell and Blue Peter's Konnie Huq join judging panel for Royal Society Young People's Book Prize 2020

28 April 2020

The Waterstones Children’s Laureate and author-illustrator of the How to Train Your Dragon books, Cressida Cowell, and former Blue Peter presenter turned children’s writer Konnie Huq are among a brilliant judging panel for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize, awarded annually to the best science book for under-14s.

With a seismic task ahead of them, it is fitting that the panel is chaired by seismologist and Royal Society Fellow Professor Mike Kendall,who studies the movements in the Earth, from its core to its crust, that cause earthquakes and volcanoes. The panel is completed by special educational needs coordinator and teacher from the Isle of Wight, Gail Eagar, and Royal Society Research Fellow Professor Rosalind Rickaby, who studies how the Earth’s chemistry has shaped the evolution of life.

The judges will comb through this year’s submissions of children’s science books, trimming and curating a stellar shortlist for 2020. They then handover to the Prize’s ultimate arbiters: thousands of school children across the UK, a notoriously selective demographic.

Last year more than 10,000 students from over 470 schools and youth groups cast their votes for their favorite science book from the panel’s shortlist.

The Young People's Book Prize aims to promote literacy in young people and inspire them to read about science. It also helps to promote the writing of excellent, accessible STEM books for under-14s.These objectives seem particularly pertinent this year, with schools closed across the country and families locked down together. It is a perfect time to explore the unique place that science books can occupy on the shelves of every young person.

Books have the power to show avid and reluctant readers alike entirely new worlds, some on distant planets, some no further than their own back garden, and inspire them with new skills and ideas.

Meet some of this year’s panel

Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon books have sold millions worldwide and been adapted for film and TV.

Her work has always drawn on environmental themes, and her Waterstones Children’s Laureate Charter stipulates: “Every child has the right to have a planet to read on”.

“I am delighted to be judging this year’s Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize,” Cowell said.

“Science and non-fiction books are an absolutely vital way for a lot of children to engage with reading, and it’s a real skill to create a book which encapsulates a topic in an entertaining and accurate way that’s right for the age group.

“We need the children of today to become creative, innovative adults, who can use scientific knowledge to find solutions to the many challenges our world faces. To do that they require the best possible books to excite and inform them about science from the earliest age.”

Konnie Huq made her name as Blue Peter’s longest-serving female presenter and has recently published her first children’s book Cookie and the Most Annoying Boy in the World.

“From a young age I’ve always been drawn to both science and the arts which is why judging the Royal Society’s Young People’s Book Prize is a dream come true for me – it combines my two main passions: science and reading,” Huq said.

“Britain needs people with STEM skills, from all walks of life and in all kinds of jobs. Which is why books that focus on science are so important – they can help illuminate an area which can sometimes seem hard for kids to access. We are so lucky that now there are SO many amazing books on such a wide range of scientific topics. I can’t wait to get stuck into the judging, I’m really looking forward to discovering some new favourites.”

The selection panel chair Professor Mike Kendall FRS said: “I loved being asked to take part in the Royal Society Young People's Book Prize – being sent a large box of science books to read is extremely exciting. That's because a good book is like a good teacher – they inspire you.

“Reading books about science and nature as a child helped inspire me to study science, and with such a huge array of quality books out there today, there really is something for students of all walks of life and backgrounds.”

Last year, a record number of young judges crowned Planetarium: Welcome to the Museum, as their winner.

The book by astrophysicist Raman Prinja and artist Chris Wormell, is an eye-catching tour of the solar system, combining Prinja’s captivating explanations with sumptuous illustrations from Wormell – whose work can also be found throughout Philip Pullman’s award-winning Book of Dust series.

About the judges (in alphabetical order):

Cressida Cowell

Current Waterstones Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell is the number one bestselling author-illustrator of the How to Train Your Dragon and The Wizards of Once book series, and the author of the Emily Brown picture books, illustrated by Neal Layton. She has sold over 11 million books worldwide in 38 languages. How to Train Your Dragon is also an award-winning billion-dollar DreamWorks film series, and a TV series shown on Netflix and CBBC; The Wizards of Once has also been optioned for film by DreamWorks. Cressida is an ambassador for the National Literacy Trust, a trustee for World Book Day and a founder patron of the Children's Media Foundation. She has won numerous prizes for her books, including the Blue Peter Book Award, the Ruth Rendell Award for Championing Literacy, Gold Award in the Nestle Children's Book Prize, the Hay Festival Medal for Fiction, and Philosophy Now magazine's Award for Contributions in the Fight Against Stupidity. She grew up in London and on a small, uninhabited island off the west coast of Scotland and she now lives in Hammersmith with her husband, three children and a dog called Pigeon. 

Gail Eagar

Gail is a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo) and Science advisor at Barton Primary School. She has been a primary school teacher for 16 years.  Born in Lancashire, Gail currently lives on the Isle of Wight with her husband and daughter.  She was awarded the Primary Science Teaching Trust (PSTT) Primary Science Teacher of the Year award in 2014.  Her love of reading began as a child when she could always be seen with a book in her hand.  As a curious child, she combined her two loves, reading and science, by going out to the countryside with her spotters' books to look for different wildlife.  She volunteers with her husband for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and they are working on the 'Secret of the Solent' project.  She now loves teaching science and has managed to combine both roles in school by carrying out a biodiversity project (funded by the Royal Society) with the children at her school.

Konnie Huq

As the longest serving female Blue Peter presenter, from 1997 to 2008, Konnie Huq is no stranger to the middle-grade market. She is an ambassador for the Prince's Trust and the British Asian Trust. Cookie and the Most Annoying Boy in the World is her first foray into children's books. Cookie is inspired by Konnie's own London Bangladeshi background, her love of science and her unashamed nerdiness!

Professor Mike Kendall FRS

Mike Kendall is a seismologist whose work has taken him to the hottest and coldest regions on Earth, conducting experiments in places like Ethiopia and the Antarctic. He has studied the Earth from its core to its surface, including work on plate tectonics, volcanoes and ice sheets. He is also interested in the role of geophysics in the world’s energy demands. Mike is the Chair of Geophysics at the University of Oxford.

Professor Rosalind Rickaby

Throughout her research career, Ros has aimed to bring life to geochemistry! Ros has pioneered an interdisciplinary blend of biology and chemistry to resolve questions of past climates, evolution, and the future of the phytoplankton. The feedback between biology and climate is inescapable, and requires investigation of both biological innovation and environmental change over Earth history. Ros’ distinctive approach is to read geological history from signals of adaptation within genes of modern organisms, which play out in the evolving affinity and kinetics of the expressed enzymes, or isotopic signals of adaptation that leave a footprint in fossils and biomolecules. Ros has authored over 90 papers and co-authored a book “Evolution’s Destiny: Co-evolving chemistry of the environment and life”.

Ros has just taken up the role of Chair of Geology, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, having been Professor of Biogeochemistry since 2002, on the dark side (of blue!) as well as mum to two boys. She received her PhD with Harry Elderfield from Cambridge University in 1995 and studied at Harvard for her post-doc with Dan Schrag.  In 2008 Ros received the European Geosciences Union’s Outstanding Young Scientist award, in 2010 the American Geophysical Union’s James B. Macelwane Award for significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by an outstanding young scientist and most recently, in 2016, the Lyell Award of the Geological Society of London. She currently holds a Wolfson Research Merit Award from the Royal Society.

Find our more about the Young People's Book Prize.