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The Young People's Book Prize: STEM Shortlist 2021

By Caitlin Evans, Hannah Davenport and Thomas Caldow

The Young People’s Book Prize is an award founded by the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, The Royal Society. With this prize, the society of pioneering scientists hopes to kill two birds with one stone by promoting literacy as well as inspiring a passion for reading about science. The prize focuses on scientific literature for under-fourteens which is equally high quality in enrichment and academia as it is accessible and engaging for a young audience.

The eligibility criteria for nominated titles includes: STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) being a substantial aspect of content or narrative; stimulating and well-written text; as well as practical criteria such as a publication date within the last calendar year. However, pure reference works such as encyclopaedias and educational textbooks are not eligible for the prize.

The judging process is unique to that of most literary prizes, as the final winning decisions are made by the target audience of children. The initial shortlist of six books is selected by an expert adult judging panel, consisting of volcano scientists, TV presenters, authors, teachers and chemists. They then pass the baton onto teams of children up to fourteen years old all across the country. Nearly 12,000 children have formed teams, be it in schools, libraries, community groups or science centres. From the period of September 2021 to January 2022, the teams will spend months meticulously reading and pondering over the six shortlisted titles, before they finally vote and declare a winner.

This year’s eclectic shortlist features a range of science content, from historical biography to climate change, from spy hackers to the starry night sky. Read on to explore the nominated titles of the Young People’s Book Prize 2021.

100 Things to Know About Saving the Planet, Usborne Publishing

Alex Frith, Tom Mumbray and Alice James are among the fifteen writers and illustrators who contributed to this entry on the shortlist. The book asks the big and small questions about climate change. Through thought provoking and entertaining questions about the planet, the writers unveil different ways we can all do our bit to save the planet. One of the judges, Gabby Logan, praised the book saying it is “an excellent way to bridge the gap and spark the conversation” about climate change.

Agent Asha: Mission Shark Bytes, Sophie Deen & Anjan Sarkar, Walker Books

Author Sophie Deen has worked for Code Club, Google and the Department for Education and in Agent Asha she hopes to engage young people in critical-thinking, coding and STEM. The story follows Asha Joshi as she uses her knowledge of coding to hack into a huge global tech company to save the internet and the world. Award winning author Sharna Jackson has said the book is a “great example of excellent storytelling” and “the tech elements are told in such a creative way.”

I am a Book. I am a Portal to the Universe, Stefanie Posavec & Miriam Quick, Penguin Books

This interesting entry on the shortlist aims to provide an interactive experience for the reader. Posavec and Quick, an artist and data journalist respectively, uncover everyday oddities and stories that are hidden all around us through the study of data. They ask intriguing questions such as how long is an anteater's tongue and how tiny is the DNA in your cells? Dr Andrew Jupp has said that the book is “particularly engaging” and fantastically interactive which is “what science is all about!"

I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast, Michael Holland & Philip Giordano, Flying Eye Books

With I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast, Michael Holland and Philip Giordano have set out to highlight the roles plants play in our lives. With the aid of Giordano’s beautiful illustrations readers have the chance to find out just how the things around us get made, be it the food on our plate, or the toothpaste we clean our teeth with after. Once you’ve finished learning everything there is to learn about the world of plants (if that’s even possible!), why not have a go at any one of the fantastic plant projects for you to try out with your friends?

Inventors, Robert Winston, illustrated by Jessamy Hawke, DK

How much do you know about the people behind some of history's most important inventions? No matter your answer, you will be guaranteed to learn a whole lot more with the help of Robert Winston’s new book Inventors. Find yourself transported to Leonardo da Vinci’s workshop, or to the high-tech laboratories of today, with each story being brought to life by Jessamy Hawkes' wonderful illustrations. If that’s not quite enough, prepare to be astounded by the mind-boggling facts you can find on every page! The perfect book for any aspiring inventor at the beginning of their own path to discovery.

Under the Stars, Lisa Harvey-Smith & Mel Matthews, Melbourne University Press

Have you ever wanted to explore the universe? Would you like to do it without having to leave your cosy bed? Lisa Harvey-Smith’s Under the Stars allows you to do just that, taking you on a trip round the solar system before having you back in time for supper. Helped by Mel Matthews’ warm and inviting illustrations which bring the beauties of space down to earth, Harvey-Smith helps us understand just why space is the way it is. Packed full of a galaxy’s worth of facts and surprises, this book will have you ready to launch off amongst the stars.

It is now over to our youth judges to make the final decision on which book takes the prize. Despite crowning just one winner, each of the authors will have done their job, as by the end of the judging process the children will have already learnt a plethora of STEM-related knowledge thanks to their fantastic work.


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