“This Award Has Undone Me”: Patricia Newman’s Sibert Honor Speech

Today we share the speech author Patricia Newman gave last month at the Sibert Committee lunch at ALA. She received the Sibert Honor for Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem.

Patricia Newman’s Sibert Honor speech

Usually, I am not a nervous public speaker, but I have to admit that this award has undone me.

I think I have Danielle to thank for the video of the committee calling me. I was in the Denver airport at the time, completely bored out of my mind because my flight was delayed and wondering how I was going to entertain myself for the next hour when the phone call came in. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, you can hear my blubbering, inarticulate response to the wonderful news as many times as you wish. But, the spontaneity of that moment is what I will always treasure. Thank you for recording that for us. That was a real gift.

Patricia signing at ALA

It’s rare to be in a room full of nonfiction lovers. I’m used to it with Millbrook Press–they all love nonfiction. They make no bones about loving nonfiction. And the team there, my editor Carol Hinz, Rachel Zugschwert, and Adam Lerner are all like family. They all make their authors feel like family and a valued part of the team.

But that feeling in the book world is rare. And let me tell you it is so nice to be in a room full of nonfiction lovers, and I am feeling your love.

I went to a conference not too long ago and I was in the audience. The teacher who was speaking explained the difference between fiction and nonfiction. This is what she said: “Fiction is the heart and nonfiction is the facts.” And I have to say that hurt my feelings. When you read a Patricia Newman book, by golly, I want you to clutch that book to your chest, run out your front door, look both ways, and see what you can do.

I am very definitely trying to get kids to get out there and do something. And the other reason that this award means so much to me is that it is not often that science receives an award like this. I write nonfiction science, usually about the environment. And usually it’s history and biography that receives these kinds of awards. But the fact that a science book won this award is huge not only for nonfiction but for everybody who writes science and loves to read science.

And I want to thank the committee for that. By promoting science, you show young readers that males, females, people of color, people who live in different parts of the world do science because you allow us to tell their stories. You also show young readers that science is a collaboration that promotes critical thinking and civil discourse because scientists have to talk to one another.

Patricia with Tali Balas, Sibert Committee Chair
Patricia with Tali Balas, Sibert Committee Chair

In fact, my book would not even be possible. My scientist in the book is Brent Hughes, and his work would not even be possible without other sea otter scientists who came before him. Scientists build on each other’s work. You answer one question, and there are a hundred more to be asked. They need each other. By promoting work like this, you also teach kids to think like scientists.

I read an article in Scientific American where the author was promoting the idea that we teach college students to think like scientists, not just science majors but history majors, English majors, urban studies majors, and any major should be taught to think like scientists. And I’m reading this article thinking, why just college kids? Why not every child?

Science has this crazy idea that you actually have to prove your conclusions that will affect billions of people on this planet. And you get the proof by asking questions, designing models, analyzing results, engineering experiments, asking more questions, arguing in a civil way with your peers about what those conclusions might mean. That is what we are trying to get kids to do in school.

At the end of the day, the scientific process, whether or not you are doing science or studying Shakespeare, will do one of two things. It will either confirm your thinking or change your mind. And that’s what my books are about.

I want to thank everybody in this room for your support. I want to congratulate the winners. I’m so very grateful.


You can watch the full speech on Patricia’s Youtube channel here

Learn more about Sea Otter Heroes

Sea Otter Heroes is available through lernerbooks.com 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.

Plus, watch the trailer below for a sneak peek at Patricia’s next science nonfiction title, Eavesdropping on Elephants, available this fall!

3 thoughts on ““This Award Has Undone Me”: Patricia Newman’s Sibert Honor Speech

  1. Cynthia Argentine

    Patricia makes so many important points in this speech, “undoing” many false stereotypes about nonfiction writing and about science itself. It’s key that kids and their mentors understand these points. They need to know that science requires collaboration, communication, and creative thinking. They need to know that science ultimately is about telling a story — a story about how the world works and how people are figuring that out. And I couldn’t agree more that great nonfiction has heart!

  2. Susan L. Roberts

    Congratulations! I loved your speech, it’s even motivating! Sea Otters was an exceptional book and I still feel excited about it all these years later. Brilliantly written for kids to learn science.

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