Our Young People’s Book Prize ended with bang this week, as over 150 school children from the north east and beyond attended a fun-filled day celebrating six outstanding science books.
The shortlist was selected by an expert panel of (young-at-heart) adults back in May 2014; the start of a process that would culminate in the winner being selected entirely by groups of young people – over 1000 of them – from across the UK.
From Land’s End to Inverness, we had the real experts on hand to select a winner. The Judging Panels held meetings, gave presentations and staged debates. Submitting their results in October 2014, they had sealed the fate of the winning book and the result was ready to be revealed.
Crowned winner on Monday was Clive Gifford and his book Eye Benders: the Science of Seeing and Believing. Here, Clive tells us what winning means to him and gives his opinions on the merits of a good old fashioned science book.
Monday 17th November 2014 will remain with me for a long, long time. It was a wonderful day with the Centre For Life proving marvellous hosts and a morning of highly entertaining workshops crammed full of excited and engaged children followed by the chance to mingle with science heavyweights, fellow authors and publishers. I was reflecting on how much fun it had been being a nominee moments before the winner was announced…much to my surprise.
Winning means the world to me. The Royal Society is a byword for scientific excellence, integrity and the promotion of science worldwide. Being associated in any small way with such an august institution is a phenomenal honour. Having been nominated in the past, I can confidently say that being a nominee and not winning is no empty experience. Far from it. To be selected as one of six titles, all incredibly strong, by a panel of esteemed scientists and educationalists for what is the biggest prize in UK children’s non-fiction is a terrific honour, a morale boost and garners significant publicity for all nominated books, something children’s non-fiction is so frequently starved of.
Despite what some might think, being a full-time children’s information book writer is no cakewalk and no longer a remotely sensible career path! The hours are long, fees are low (often equating to levels below the minimum wage) and there’s often scant coverage in the media which appears largely obsessed with fiction and celebrity tomes. So, from an author’s viewpoint, what the Royal Society does in both publicising their award and promoting science writing for children in general is so incredibly valuable.
Most importantly, the inclusion of some of the school judging panels at the ceremony highlights what this award is most about. It’s not about Eye Benders, or me or any of the other excellent books and nominated authors, any of whom I must stress would have made a thoroughly-deserved winner. It is about children and how good science books still retain their incredibly powerful capacity to inspire and educate. In a world of ever-increasing complexity and with science and technology shaping our lives to a profound extent, the need for high quality, engaging and innovative books to help guide young minds through complex topics has never been more pressing.
I firmly believe that the best children’s information books can be as exciting, atmospheric and provoking as any novel or movie. Good science writing for children can act as a crucial window onto the world, shaping a child’s nascent understanding of their surroundings and how and why things occur. It can prompt surprise, provoke excitement and generate interest which may turn into a lifelong passion.
Science education and outreach must embrace new technology of course, but the books remain vital. For children and young adults, the Internet can be like a giant unmade jigsaw puzzle with no box lid and dozens of pieces hidden down the back of the sofa. Most or all of the information may be there, somewhere, but without any guiding hand or detailed knowledge or experience of the subject, it is nigh on impossible to prioritise and understand all the information available. For many children and young adults, the process of assembling many disparate facts and opinions into something like the true picture can be frustrating, inaccurate and ultimately unsuccessful.
A good children’s science book in contrast, isn’t merely a collection of facts haphazardly nailed together. It often contains a strong narrative and information that has been assiduously selected, weighted and explained fully. The aim is to transport readers on a carefully-calibrated journey through a topic. The fervent hope is that the end of the book merely marks the beginning of the reader’s interest and further enquiry into the subject.
The importance of engaging children with science, the use of information books for both learning and pleasure and the value of turning to the written word to provide answers to questions that puzzle young minds are all things I believe the Royal Society understands and helps engender through its continuing promotion of this influential award.
A big thank you goes to everybody involved in this year’s Prize and especially to those children in judging panels across the UK .
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