If you want to know how science can be made interesting for children then clearly they’re the ones to ask. And as a science book prize, judged by young people, was announced in Newcastle it was clear optical illusions do the trick.
Schoolchildren packed out Centre for Life - the first venue outside London to host the Royal Society’s Young People’s Book Prize - to hear Clive Gifford’s Eye Benders: The Science of Seeing and Believing picked as this year’s winner following the totting up of votes by more than 1,000 children from 120 schools and youth groups across the UK.
The Royal Society is a fellowship of many of the world’s most distinguished scientists and its book prize every year aims to inspire young people to read about science and promote the best science writing for under-14s.
Publishers from across the UK submit their best books and an adult panel narrows them down to a shortlist of six for school and youth groups to read and nominate their favourite.
The book with the highest number of votes wins and the interactive Eye Benders, which is full of optical illusions and mind-boggling pictures that trick the brain then explains the science behind each trick of the eye, was described by chairman of the judges Professor James Hough as “an enthralling book which captivates children and adults”.
It certainly proved a popular choice with young members of Life’s monthly Science Club, one of the judging groups that discussed the six short-listed books before deciding on the favourite.
Poppy Oxberry, aged nine, who attends Holly Park Academy in Washington, said: “I enjoyed all the tricks which I tested on my friends at school and they thought they were really good.
“I’d seen a few but didn’t know how they worked and I liked how the book explained about them.
“It’s really colourful and it’s got science bits and funny bits in it. It’s on my Christmas list!”
And 12-year-old Patrick Sheils liked the book so much he bought his own copy but forgot to bring it along to Monday’s award presentation. The author gave him his autograph, accompanied by a drawing, on a piece of paper instead.
The pupil of Framwellgate School in Durham said: “I really like optical illusions so I thought this was a really good book. It was my favourite of all six.”
Clive Gifford, from Manchester, who joined the other short-listed authors in running science workshops for children before the awards ceremony where he revealed such fascinating facts as “your spinal cord weighs less than a single strawberry”, was delighted to win his first prize since writing his first book at the age of just 17.
“I’ve read all the other books and thought ‘I haven’t got a hope here’!” he said.
And with Life - which is all about making science fun - an apt venue to host the prize, he said: “I think it’s lovely to move it out of London.”
His interactive book, with help from consultant Anil Seth, is aimed at primary schoolchildren upwards and he says it’s not hard to engage them in science.
“I wasn’t a good student myself in science class,” he said. “We did a lot of writing before experiments. I think we had it the wrong way round.
“Science is sometimes bogged down in dull principles and theory but it should be exciting.
“It’s not about dumbing down and science doesn’t need to be dressed up too much. It’s intrinsically fascinating.”
The other shortlisted books were What makes you YOU?, a contemporary look at genetics by Gill Arbuthnott; How animals live, a pop-up book by Christiane Dorion; The Usborne Big Book of Stars and Planets, about the wonders of the universe by Emily Bone; Lift-the-Flap Questions and Answers about Your Body by Katie Daynes for young children; and mathematical book We’ve got your number by Mukul Patel.