Sea Otter Heroes Receives Sibert Honor

By Libby Stille, Associate Publicist

This morning at the American Library Association (ALA) Youth Media Awards, Patricia Newman’s Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem was named a 2018 Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor Book! The Sibert Medal and Honors are awarded annually to outstanding informational picture books for young readers.

Sea Otter Heroes and Adam Lerner
CEO and Publisher Adam Lerner with Sea Otter Heroes

I asked the book’s author, Patricia Newman, and editor, Carol Hinz, for their thoughts on the award.

Q&A with Patricia Newman

How did you find out you had received a Sibert Honor?

I’d had a busy weekend with photographer Annie Crawley signing Zoo Scientists to the Rescue at ALA on Saturday, followed by a Sunday presentation at the Ft. Collins Museum of Discovery where we’d done some of the research for our book.

At the time of the call on Sunday night, I was collapsed in a chair at my gate at the Denver airport chatting with fellow author and critique partner, Linda Joy Singleton. Then The Call came.

I remember hearing lots of cheering from the committee over the phone and even more incoherent blubbering on my part. Linda knew something big was happening so she started snapping photos (which will forever remain unpublished!). And then the committee members swore me to secrecy. When I told them about Linda sitting next to me, they said I was allowed to tell her, but we swore her to secrecy, too!

The Call and the official announcement reminded me of my trip to a US Navy aircraft carrier at sea. To get there, I boarded a C2 cargo plane and landed on board a carrier with the arresting wire (105 to 0 mph in 2 seconds). After touring the ship and spending the night, I boarded the C2 for a catapult launch back home. The delicious moments of tense anticipation between my call and the award’s official announcement reminded me of how I felt before we sped down the runway.

Sea Otter Heroes and Adam Lerner
Adam Lerner with the Sibert Committee

Have you told Dr. Hughes and the other scientists featured in Sea Otter Heroes about the honor?

I spoke to Brent Hughes on Monday morning. He’d completed his post-doc at UC Santa Cruz and was on his way to a job interview. He said, “I’ll tell my interviewer about this!” Not every scientist is the star of a Sibert Honor Award-winning book, and I hope it helps him stand out from the crowd of applicants. He also said, “I can’t wait to tell my wife!”

I haven’t yet caught up with Lilian Carswell, Brent’s mentor during his Smith Conservation Fellowship, but I expect her to be as thrilled as Brent.

Sea Otter Heroes author Patricia Newman
Patricia Newman with Lilian Carswell (L) and Brent Hughes (R)

What does this mean to you that this book was selected?

The Sibert Honor is a huge personal achievement for me, but more than that it’s a win for STEM books, too. Whenever I speak to librarians, educators, and parents, they tell me how important my books are because I empower kids to take a stand for the environment.

Brent’s research began as a question: why is the seagrass so healthy in one of the most nutrient-polluted estuaries on the planet when the accepted literature said it should be dead? Brent’s path to the solution involved a lot of trial and error, building models, and deductive reasoning–the very essence of a young child’s play or an older child’s drive to find out why the world works the way it does.

I want to thank the Sibert Committee for encouraging a curiosity about and a love for our natural world.

Thanks, Patricia, and congratulations!

Editor Carol Hinz on the wonder of science nonfiction

When I was a kid, I remember science books as having lots of answers. I grew up under the impression that when it came to science, we’d pretty much figured everything out. After all, everything I learned about in science class seemed to have been figured out long, long ago.

That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about the Sibert Honor for Sea Otter Heroes. Because of course we haven’t figured out everything at all! And rather than being a book that simply presents a conclusion, it takes readers inside the scientific process and lets us follow along as marine biologist Brent Hughes tries to figure out why the Elkhorn Slough in northern California is healthy despite all the fertilizer runoff from nearby farms.

In the book world, we’re all well aware that a piece of writing isn’t perfect after the first draft. Similarly, in science, a person’s first idea isn’t always right. As the narrative in Sea Otter Heroes develops, Brent forms hypotheses and . . . he’s wrong. Yet he continues researching and continues asking questions, and eventually he figures out that sea otters, which are apex predators, play a key role in keeping this entire ecosystem in balance.

Carol Hinz
Editor Carol Hinz

I’m thrilled that thanks to this recognition from the Sibert Committee, Sea Otter Heroes will get into more schools and libraries and into the hands of more kids. Because there are a lot of kids out there—and some of those kids are future scientists. It’s not all that often that an award like this recognizes a science-themed book (see Melissa Stewart’s post here for more specifics), and that just makes this honor all the more meaningful.

So here’s to new scientific discoveries, to future scientists, and to all who are working to help take care of this beautiful planet we call home!

Read more posts by Carol Hinz here

Learn more about Sea Otter Heroes

Sea Otter Heroes is available through and all major distributors.

For more about Patricia’s research, student discussion questions, and an interview with Dr. Hughes, read this blog post. You can download a free teaching guide here.

4 thoughts on “Sea Otter Heroes Receives Sibert Honor

  1. Jennifer Swanson

    SO Thrilled for Patricia, Carol, and Lerner Publishing. You are both so right. It is AWESOME that a STEM book received this kind of recognition! Congrats to all!! Cheers to many more STEM books being in the spotlight.

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