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Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize 2020 shortlist revealed

06 October 2020

Recreating Nobel Prize experiments at home, learning how to code through the language of song, scientific discovery and the wonder of everyday objects are among the topics explored in the books vying for this year’s Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize

The Prize recognises the very best science books for under 14s and aims to encourage young readers to satisfy their curiosity by immersing themselves in the wonderful world of science.

An adult judging panel, including Cressida Cowell, the Waterstones Children’s Laureate and author-illustrator of the How to Train Your Dragon books, former Blue Peter presenter and author Konnie Huq, and chaired by Professor Mike Kendell, geophysicist and Fellow of the Royal Society, have whittled down the year’s best children’s science books to a short list of six.

Then it’s over to the scrutinising eyes of over 13,000 young judges, drawn from over 500 schools, science centres, and community groups such as Scouts and Brownies from across the UK, to read and declare their champion. 

The overall winning book will be unveiled at an online awards ceremony in February 2021.

The shortlisted books for the Young People’s Book Prize 2020 (in order of author surname) are:

  • Gut Garden: A Journey into the Wonderful World of Your Microbiome – Katie Brosnan
  • The Everyday Journeys of Ordinary Things– Libby Deutsch, illustrated by Valpuri Kerttula
  • Cats React to Science Facts – Izzi Howell
  • In the Key of Code – Aimee Lucido
  • How to Win a Nobel Prize – Professor Barry Marshall with Lorna Hendry, illustrated by Bernard Caleo
  • Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry – Neil deGrasse Tyson with Gregory Mone

Chair of the 2020 judges, Professor Mike Kendall FRS, said: “The importance of science in our everyday lives has never been clearer. Books that inspire and enable a younger generation to explore scientific subjects at their own pace are more vital than ever.”

“Great books from a wide range of topics were submitted this year – it was extremely difficult to narrow it down to six. Each shortlisted book exhibits high levels of both accuracy and creativity and are sure to leave the children’s judging panel hooked.”

“We hope our young judges enjoy reading the shortlisted books as much as we did.”

Judge Cressida Cowell, Waterstones Children’s Laureate said: “When I was a child, I loved reading. Opening a book would be like opening a door to another world. You could imagine what it would be like to live in space or hitchhike to another galaxy or live on the other side of the word. It was like magic. We need creative scientists, and reading science books is a way in.” 

Judge and author Konnie Huq said: “Literacy is hugely important for science, if children can read about science then they will be more prepared for it as a topic which is often only covered in depth in secondary school. If you haven’t had many encounters with it up until then, it may seem like an alien subject – making you reluctant to engage with it. The more science books that young people read the better, which is why it’s important for these books to be written in a fun and engaging way.”

What the judging panel said about this year’s shortlist:

Gut Garden: A Journey into the Wonderful World of Your Microbiome written by Katie Brosnan (Published by Cicada Books Limited)

Judge Cressida Cowell said: “This book was very interesting, the wonderful little characters brought it to life. The field is growing, with scientists only now beginning to comprehend the significance of our microbiome – it helps to educate the future generation about science fields with emergent interest.” 

The Everyday Journeys of Ordinary Things written by Libby Deutsch, illustrated by Valpuri Kerttula (Published by Ivy Kids)

Judge Konnie Huq said: “Being a curious mind, I still wonder where things have come from, and why things are. Why does the world spin? Why is the sky blue? I have children with the same questions, which has reignited my passion. Seeing every step of the process explained behind everyday actions like flicking a light switch or making a phone call really satisfied my curiosity. Igniting curiosity is what this whole Prize is about.”

Cats React to Science Facts written by Izzi Howell (Published by Hachette Children's Group)

Judge and Royal Society Research Fellow Professor Rosalind Rickaby said: “This book makes science fun and engaging by breaking down difficult information in a relatable way. The book introduces topics like forces, energy and climate change — the real fundamentals — in a fun and engaging way. It was thoroughly road tested in my house, it wasn’t a quick scan, this was the book my kids wanted to take to bed with them and flick through.” 

In the Key of Code written by Aimee Lucido (Published by Walker Books UK)

Chair of the judging panel Professor Mike Kendall said: “Not only does this book teach you about code, it teaches you the importance of logic and critical thinking through the ‘way’ of coding. It makes learning fun and prepares you for the future. In most aspects of science, you have to code. This book normalises it and shows you that coding is part of being immersed in science.”

How to Win a Nobel Prize written by Professor Barry Marshall with Lorna Hendry illustrated by Bernard Caleo (Published by Rock the Boat)

Judge and special educational needs coordinator and teacher Gail Eagar said: “I really enjoyed the activities at the end of each chapter, there are some unbelievable experiments. The fact that it was a female lead character added to the delight of reading this.”

Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry written by Neil deGrasse Tyson with Gregory Mone (Published by WW Norton & Company)

Judge Cressida Cowell said: “This book successfully encapsulated topics in an imaginative and yet comprehensible way, and the brilliant opening sentence captivated me from the start. It ticked all the criteria – there was plenty of science, and it was exciting and wonderful to read.”

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