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Last Updated: Monday, 15 May 2006, 07:36 GMT 08:36 UK
DK's formula for science success
By Rebecca Morelle
BBC News science reporter

Book cover (DK)
This is Johnny Ball's first book for 18 years
Publisher Dorling Kindersley (DK) appears to be on a winning streak when it comes to the Aventis Junior Prize for science books.

The annual award marks the very best in popular science writing for children under the age of 14 - and DK has managed to grab the top prize an unprecedented five times in the last six years.

The news that another DK book, Johnny Ball's Think of a Number, has been short-listed for the 2006 prize makes the chance of DK claiming the crown for a sixth time a real possibility.

So what is the secret behind the publisher's success?

Miriam Farbey is children's publisher at DK and has been responsible for commissioning and publishing all of the winning books.

She believes the answer lies in the books' visual-appeal: "DK children's books started in about 1987, and its aim was, and still is, to show you things that other books only tell you.

"DK was really the first publishing company to use pictures as much as they use words, and that's something we still very much do today."

Attention grabbing

She argues that children today are constantly surrounded by visual media: album covers; the television; computer games; and particularly the internet.

And DK books, she believes, tap into this and appeal to children who are perhaps reluctant readers.

2000: DK Guide to Space by Peter Bond
2001: DK Guide to Weather by Michael Allaby
2002: DK Guide to the Human Body by Richard Walker
2003: DK Guide to the Oceans by Frances Dipper
2005: What Makes Me, Me by Robert Winston
The "DK look" used in its children's science books is distinctive. Subjects are displayed on colourful double-page spreads, and striking pictures, graphics, and text are carried throughout the page to illustrate various concepts.

"I think how words and pictures work together is extremely important. I think that's particularly true in What Makes Me, Me; which won the Aventis prize in 2005," explained Ms Farbey.

"We really make the words, as well as the pictures, fun to look at."

Jane Bull, creative director at DK, said the editorial and design teams worked very closely together when creating a new book, and had a clear aim of what they wanted to achieve.

"The look is very bright and cheerful, but it still looks authoritative. They are fun - but they wouldn't be out of place in a classroom," she said.

page layout (DK)
Dk's design uses bold colours and strong images
"We aim to make the books look approachable, but at the same time breaking down the levels of information, so if you are looking at a spread, you can look at it on different levels.

"You draw the reader in, so if they see something, they can read the heading, just look at the sentence across the bottom of the page, or something else might catch their eye."

Making maths visual

But, explained Miriam Farbey, while design was important, DK still placed a lot of emphasis on content.

"From a business perspective we know that we are seen as the quality educational trusted brand," she said.

"We do our research, we do our fact-checking, we use our experts. In any science-based media, you do have to get all of the fundamentals right."

Johnny Ball (DK)
Think of a Number by Johnny Ball
100 Science Experiments by Georgina Andrews and Kate Knighton
It's True! Squids Suck by Nicki Greenberg
Blame My Brain by Nicola Morgan
Global Garden by Kate Petty and Jennie Maizels
Kingfisher Knowledge: Forensics by Richard Platt
The latest contender for the Aventis Prize, Think of a Number - Johnny Ball's first book for 18 years - initially posed a challenge to the team. Mathematics is not an obviously visual subject.

"If you think about geometry and algebra, there are actually very beautiful patterns and shapes, and although the team struggled in the beginning, they found lots of ways of showing that maths is in fact a visually interesting subject," explained Ms Farbey.

Author and maths-enthusiast Johnny Ball said the book had wide appeal: "I think the book does what I hoped it would do - and that is to really broaden out maths and to tell children about the maths that we don't see and we're not familiar with."

He said that the DK way of working did cause some constraints - he would have liked to have packed more information into the book - but he is pleased with the outcome and also very pleased with being nominated for the prize.

Ball and DK now face a nervous wait for the results of the prize, which will be announced at an awards ceremony at the Royal Society on 16 May.

Unlike the General Prize, which is selected by a panel of judges, the Junior Prize is chosen by children.

"We will be delighted if we win. It is a mark that says we are producing the best science books, and not just this, but the books that the children like," Ms Farbey told the BBC News website.

Titles collide for Aventis Prize
12 Apr 06 |  Science/Nature
Science book longlist announced
07 Mar 06 |  Science/Nature
Behaviour book wins 10,000 prize
12 May 05 |  Science/Nature
Bryson wins 10,000 science prize
14 Jun 04 |  Science/Nature
Judges hand it to asymmetry
25 Jun 03 |  Science/Nature
Hawking takes top book prize
25 Jun 02 |  Science/Nature

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