WINNER: WITNESSES TO WAR. By Michael Leapman. Viking. pound;12.99. Shortlist: NATURE ENCYCLOPEDIA. By Dorling Kindersley with The Natural History Museum. pound;24. CASTLE AT WAR: THE STORY OF A SIEGE. By Andrew Langley. Illustrated by Peter Dennis. Dorling Kindersley. pound;9.99.
The Senior Information Book Award winner moved at least one judge to tears. The panel decided that it would move young readers, too, with its personal histories of children who attracted the attention of the Nazis, in which familiar names (Anne Frank) appear alongside the less familiar (young Czechs and Poles selected for "Germanisation"). "An important, accessible and necessary book about evil" was the verdict on Michael Leapman's Witnesses to War (Viking).
"It's also timely," the judges said. "Some of these people are still alive but won't be for much longer. Acts of genocide are still going on and you have to study the Holocaust to understand them. This isn't a history book - it's for the general reader."
Reflecting the concern of the Junior Information Book Award panel for quality of writing, the judges found in Leapman's book "a strong argument for the continuous narrative text, which is dying the death. There is a lot to read but the quality of narrative is superb, conveying information about how real families from a full spectrum of backgrounds were persecuted. It stays with the child's point of view and the child's lack of understanding of the wider picture. This stops the Holocaust becoming just another piece of history."
The focus is sharper in one of the runner-up titles, Castle at War: The Story of a Siege by Andrew Langley with illustrations by Peter Dennis (Dorling Kindersley), but the timeless predicament of people under fire emerges in the "living history" account that takes in a typical castle's construction, significance, life and decline.
The judges appreciated "a text that really comes alive, wonderful illustrations and fantastic co-operation between author and artist. When children first encounter castles, they should encounter this book. Even those who have been studying castles since they were nine will find something in it."
Dorling Kindersley's Nature Encyclopedia also reached the final three with its "sound treatment of important concepts" coupled with strong visual appeal and alluring production values. "I can see children sitting up in bed with this," said one judge. "It's an example of how the feel of a high-quality book beats the Web any day."
With the attractions of the Internet in mind, it was decided that the award winners chosen from the 53 entries should be "books that will endure - that will be in use 10 years from now". The titles that were rejected early in the process included those in which the content did not deliver what the title promised, was not appropriate for the secondary age group or was trying to do too much or too little. Staid, uninspiring presentation and "design 20 years out of date" ruled out other entries.
Issues of time-sensitivity and of balancing breadth of information with depth also emerged as the judges discussed the general encyclopedias submitted by Kingfisher and Oxford. "The Kingfisher wins in terms of presentation but there's not enough information to do justice to most subjects at secondary level," was the verdict. "The Oxford looks more academic, has more information of better quality and gives more related references."
They saw Crisis in Central Africa by Charles Freeman in Wayland's New Perspectives series as "a book that needs to be written and read", but felt it did not have the impact that the subject matter, with its echoes of Leapman's Holocaust material, deserved. "It's accessible to the lower end of the teenage market, but would have been better in a more appealing format."
Some books narrowly missed a place on the shortlist: Stephen Biesty's Incredible Body (Dorling Kindersley), with its teams of tiny explorers venturing into human innards, was seen as "a book for a motivated child which will stand poring over and returning to" but one that suffered from "impenetrable" diagrams.
The factfile format used for Aliens (Walker) "stretches the concept of what a book can be", said the judges. But they felt that "it works better with a hard information subject" - such as Sharks, Walker's first book in that format, which was shortlisted for last year's award.
Kidscape directer Mich le Elliott's pocket paperback guide on Bullying in Hodder's Wise Guides series was hailed as "a worthy publication with a lot of good advice which would help someone who is being bullied. It really covers the subject and does the job."
Will it still be needed in 10 years' time? Probably (and sadly), yes.
Judges: John D Clare head of history, Greenfield Comprehensive School, Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.
Lynne Marjoram head of science, Kidbrooke Comprehensive School, London borough of Greenwich.
Mark Williamson adviser for humanities and RE, London borough of Hounslow