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Books of the year

"Science books for children are every bit as fascinating as fiction," says Abdul-Hayee Murshad, a judge of the junior Aventis prize for science books and headteacher of Hermitage Primary School, London.

Having read, with his fellow judges, 65 books that aim to sell science to five to 14-year-olds, Abdul-Hayee Murshad is clear that, when looking through books aimed at making science exciting and capitalising on the zest for technology which fictions such as Harry Potter have fanned, the judges were delighted with what was on offer.

Criteria, he says, ranged from layout to curricular relevance, from value for money to accuracy, but top priority was how far the book encouraged children to think for themselves and to capitalise on skills they already possess.

He says: "When it comes to science and technology, children are confident; they often know more about computers and videos and phones than adults around them. These books give children the upper hand by communicating important scientific issues in a creative yet informative manner."

Here is Abdul-Hayee Murshad's low-down on the 2004 shortlist (winner to be announced on Monday): The Beginning: Voyages Through Time by Peter Ackroyd (Dorling Kindersley) is "a book to dip into" for the upper end of the age-range, with beautiful illustrations and poetic language about cosmology.

* Really Rotten Experiments by Nick Arnold and Tony De Saulles (Scholastic Children's Books) is humorous yet sensible, full of items such as how to make a stomach out of an air balloon.

* Riotous Robots by Mike Goldsmith (Scholastic Children's Books) mixes information about robots with history, prediction and a fun design.

* Start Science: Forces and Motion by Sally Hewitt (Chrysalis Children's Books) manages for much younger children to reduce a complex subject to a few pages which really capture the imagination.

* Tell Me: Who Lives In Space? by Clare Oliver (Chrysalis Children's Books) uses natural curiosity about the mechanics of space travel to engage children with wider issues.

* Survivor's Science: In the Rainforest by Peter Riley (Hodder Wayland) is a "light book on a heavy issue" which brings the rainforest to its young readers with a mix of experiments and simple yet powerful language.

Six hundred children up to the age of 14 from SciZmic, a national network of 65 science clubs, have had the task of reading and judging each of the shortlisted entries before selecting a winner. Prizes will be pound;1,000 for each shortlisted author and pound;10,000 for the winner.

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