Skip to main content

Happy Birthday, OSTB!

By Christine Anne Royce

Posted on 2022-01-06

The Outstanding Science Trade Books List (OSTB), a joint project between the National Science Teaching Association and the Children’s Book Council, is celebrating its 50th annual compilation. The first list, published in 1973, was conceived as a one-time event, but it became clear that developing and publishing an annual list benefitted both associations' overall missions. 

From 1973 to 2001, the list was called the Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children and focused on books selected for grades K–8. Beginning in 2002, the list was expanded through grade 12. Throughout the years, books selected for the list have been grouped or categorized in various formats. Most recently, books have been categorized based on the disciplinary core ideas found within A K–12 Framework for Science Education.

A New Initiative Shared in Multiple Ways

The first year’s list not only identified outstanding science trade books, but also was a highlight of the 1973 NSTA National Convention, which featured a session presented by the NSTA-Children’s Book Council Joint Liaison Committee titled Creating and Using Children’s Science Books.

OSTB 1982Two journal articles were compiled from presentations at that convention, including one by Millicent E. Selsam, who stated, “Books about science should help young people to see that our human goals must be shaped by science and that science must be enriched by human hopes and ideals.” (Selsam 1973, p. 20) Selsam was a prolific author who over the years had 29 different books selected for the list. The second article was penned by Jeanne Bendick, an illustrator of children’s books. She discussed the process of illustrating books known as “Information Books” and how illustrations should add new information to what text presents (Bendick 1973).

One of the unexpected benefits of publishing that first list was the launch of the nation’s first Children’s Science Book Fair. The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago hosted this book fair in November 1973. It attracted 35,000 children, and authors Franklyn M. Branley, Vicki Cobb, S. Carl Hirsch, Patricia Lauber, George Laycock, and David Inglis Urquhart gave presentations. Eventually, the Children’s Science Book Fair became a travelling exhibit that visited a number of communities around the country.

OSTB Influences Areas of Research

Instructional approaches to using the OSTB list within cross-subject classrooms have been well-documented and have been at the center of many research studies. Connections between literacy and science, as well as the importance of incorporating opportunities to teach literacy in science, have been highlighted throughout the years. Bull and Dupuis (2014) extolled the importance of literacy in science and noted that NSTA “publishes its annual Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students in K–12, which represents excellent literature that both assists students with building literacy skills and developing science content knowledge” and that lists such as the OSTB “help teachers make greater and better use of trade books” (Fang 2014). One study examined how trade books contribute to early science literacy both within the classroom and outside of it. (Schroeder et al. 2009)

OSTB 2011

The OSTB list itself has been examined for themes and trends. Styer (1981) analyzed the 1979 list in terms of characters portrayed to better understand sexism. Kelly (2018) considered how the 2016 list portrayed diverse scientists, the breadth of science, as well as scientific work, and found that of the 28 books selected for that list, there was not enough diversity represented in the science or scientists portrayed. Some authors have even conducted research to understand the typology or design of the book and different genres that were utilized. (May et al. 2019)

Authors All In

Over the years, authors who have had their books featured on the Outstanding Science Trade Books lists have also been active participants at conventions and conferences where the list has been highlighted and shared. Beginning at the 2019 NSTA National Conference in St. Louis, Linking Literacy’s inaugural event brought together more than 20 children’s authors. Highlights of the event included hearing directly from authors of trade books as they celebrate their work, discuss their books, and suggest how to use them in the classroom. This event continued in a virtual form for the spring 2021 NSTA Engage Conference.

OSTB 1992Many authors have dedicated their life to writing for children about science. Highlighted below are some who are well-known for their creativity, pursuit of accurate content, and books for children.

  • Franklyn M. Branley (1915–2002) was an elementary and secondary school teacher who later became an astronomer and chair of the American Museum-Hayden Planetarium. While he authored more than 200 books for all ages, he was a dedicated children’s author who wanted to help introduce science to students at the elementary school level. He also founded and co-edited the Lets-Read-and-Find-Out-About-Science book series. Of the books he published, the first that made the OSTB list was The Beginning of the Earth in 1973, one of 17 books of his that have made the list.
  • Joanna Cole is best known for her character Ms. Frizzle in the Magic School Bus series. She worked as an elementary school librarian, associate editor for SeeSaw Book Club, and senior editor for Doubleday Books. Having written more than 250 books for children, she had 19 appear on the list.  
  • Seymour Simon, highlighted for a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru Book Award in 2005, has had 75 books appear on the OSTB list over the years, often with multiple books selected in a given year. 

While the authors listed above had books published in the early years of theOSTB 2002 list, there are also contemporary authors who have contributed greatly to the field of science through outstanding trade books. 

  • Melissa Stewart’s Summertime Sleepers: Animals That Estivate on this year’s list brings her total count to 12 books. She has also assisted librarians and teachers through her proposal for a new classification system for types of nonfiction literature. 
  • Steve Jenkins is just shy of 20 books on the list with this year’s inclusion of Disasters by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics.
  • The first year the list was published, it included three books by Laurence Pringle: Pests and People: A Search for Sensible Pest Control; From Pond to Prairie; and This Is a River: Exploring an Ecosystem. Laurence Pringle makes the list again this year with The Secret Life of the Sloth.


There is no doubt that the use of children’s literature in science has continued to grow throughout the years, and the efforts put forth by the Children’s Book Council's and National Science Teaching Association’s joint efforts to produce the Outstanding Science Trade Books for K–12 has helped teachers, librarians, and parents identify and select impactful books for children. 


Bendick, J. 1973. Illustrating science books for children. Science and Children 10 (7): 20.

Bull, K.B., and J.B. Dupuis. 2014. Nonfiction and interdisciplinary inquiry: Multimodal learning in English and biology. The English Journal 103 (3): 73–79.

Fang, Z. 2013/2014. Disciplinary literacy in science: Developing science literacy through trade books. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 57 (4): 274–278.

Kelly, L.B. 2018. An analysis of award-winning science trade books for children: Who are the scientists, and what is science? Journal of Research in Science Teaching 55: 1188–1210.

May, L., et al. 2019. The durable, dynamic nature of genre and science: A purpose-driven typology of science trade books. Reading Research Quarterly 55 (3): 399–418.

Schroeder, M., et al. 2008. The contribution of trade books to early science literacy: In and out of school. Research in Science Education 39: 231–250.

Selsam, M.E. 1973. Writing science books for children. Science and Children 10 (7): 19–20.

Styer, S. 1981. Sexism in children’s science trade book illustrations. NSTA. 

Christine Anne Royce ( is a professor at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, and past president of NSTA.

General Science Middle School Elementary High School

Asset 2