It’s rare enough for a nonfiction picture book to get Caldecott recognition — but a science book? Never. True, a biography of a scientist, Snowflake Bentley, won the medal in 1999, and a hybrid poetry/science book, Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems, was an honor book in 2006. There have definitely been more science-book contenders in recent years, and I wonder if 2017 might bring a breakthrough. Already, early in the year, I’ve seen two absolutely spectacular picture books about science.
One is Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water Around the Earth (Blue Sky Press). There are now five books in the amazing Sunlight series, each more gorgeous than the last, and all with art by Molly Bang that is not just, well, gorgeous but also works in service of clear, scientific explanation. Here’s what Lolly Robinson wrote about a previous Sunlight series entry on Calling Caldecott; everything she said applies here as well, except that Bang has added additional visual elements (in order to depict the movement of water), and manages to incorporate these new elements without sacrificing clarity or, yes, gorgeousness.
OK, so the other science picture book that knocked me out this year is a bit of a hybrid — but minimally so. Jason Chin’s Grand Canyon (Porter/Roaring Brook) uses a framing story of a father-daughter hike to introduce his amazing exploration of the geology and ecology of the Grand Canyon. He uses a mixture of double-page spreads; full-page illustrations whose perimeters are filled with sketches or diagrams that further the scientific information presented on that page; and — entirely appropriate to the “grand” subject — a four-page gatefold. And he uses die-cuts in a way I’ve never before seen in a book: as virtual “windows to the past.” One illustration will show a fossil embedded in a rock; turn the page, and Chin shows us the living creature, in its own time period, that would eventually become that fossil. Truly brilliant.
Both books received starred reviews in The Horn Book Magazine. I hope they continue to receive more recognition as the year goes on. Go, science!