The science is interesting; the flat story is less so.

THE STEM NIGHT DISASTER

From the Kate the Chemist series

Kate might get to impress her scientist hero—if she can stop her saboteur.

Fifth grader Kate, a White girl in a diverse school, loves chemistry. She loves science class, science projects, and watching her favorite pop scientist, Dr. Caroline, on YouTube. So she’s overwhelmed when she learns that her school’s received a grant to have a STEM night, and the judge they’re flying in to evaluate the fifth grade science projects is Kate’s beloved Dr. Caroline. Each of her friends knows immediately what science project they’ll do. Elijah, a Black boy who loves drumming, explores sound quality. Birdie, a South Asian girl who loves art, experiments with ink chromatography. But Kate, who, in her own words, is “obsessed” with science, has no idea what to do. After a hubris-fueled false start, Kate gets a clever (and YouTube-ready) idea, but someone in the school is sabotaging her. Parts of her experiment keep being destroyed, and someone writes mean things on her science fair poster. Kate’s use of science to solve the mystery works well within the plot; one sequence explains how to dust for fingerprints with cocoa powder. Uninteresting science clip art doesn’t add much artistic spice, but the included fruit-battery experiment (which requires equipment which might be present in the home) is a good choice. The series protagonist’s obsession with author avatar Dr. Caroline is a throughline that’s run its course.

The science is interesting; the flat story is less so. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-11661-6

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A fun-if-flimsy vehicle for science lovers.

DRAGONS VS. UNICORNS

From the Kate the Chemist series

A fifth grade girl brings her love of chemistry to the school play.

Kate loves science so much she’s determined to breathe fire. Of course she knows that she needs adult supervision, and so, with her science teacher’s help, Kate demonstrates an experiment with cornstarch and a blowtorch that nearly sets her teacher’s cactus on fire. Consequences ensue. Can someone who loves science as much as Kate does find pleasure spending her fall break at drama camp? It turns out that even the school play—Dragons vs. Unicorns—needs a chemist, though, and Kate saves the day with glue and glitter. She’s sabotaged along the way, but everything is fine after Kate and her frenemy agree to communicate better (an underwhelming response to escalating bullying). Doodles decorate the pages; steps for the one experiment described that can be done at home—making glittery unicorn-horn glue—are included. The most exciting experiments depicted, though, include flames or liquid nitrogen and could only be done with the help of a friendly science teacher. Biberdorf teaches chemistry at the University of Texas and also performs science-education programs as “Kate the Chemist”; in addition to giving her protagonist her name and enthusiasm, she also seems represented in Kate-the-character’s love of the fictional YouTube personality “Dr. Caroline.” Kate and her nemesis are white; Kate’s best friends are black and South Asian.

A fun-if-flimsy vehicle for science lovers. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-11655-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Adequate from an informational standpoint: for hands-on engineering, a disappointing demonstration that less is less.

FLYING MACHINES

A brief but lucid introduction to aerodynamics, kitted up with materials for five ultralightweight flying models.

Supported by clearly labeled diagrams and cartoon portraits of typical and historical aircraft, the explanations of thrust, lift, roll, yaw, pitch and other considerations that must be taken into account when designing even the simplest fliers and gliders will give young aeronauts a good grounding in the basics. Step-by-step directions for assembling the provided models—two hand-launched gliders and three craft driven by rubber-band–powered propellers—are incorporated. Arnold goes on to a discussion of indoor vs. outdoor flights that includes a safety checklist and also suggests some experimental modifications to try out. The booklet closes with a blank “logbook” for recording the results of said experiments, followed by a pair of patterned sheets to cut out and fold into paper planes. This is all bound up with a deceptively large box in which punch-out forms on insubstantial sheets of neoprene and balsa, plus two plastic propellers and some wire, rattle around. Not only is five a paltry number next to, say, the 35 fliers for which Bobby Mercer supplies instructions (if not materials) in his Flying Machine Book (2012), but the paucity of propellers means that the models cannot all be assembled at the same time. Moreover, the balsa is unpainted, and the other pieces are colored on only one side for that extra-cheap look.

Adequate from an informational standpoint: for hands-on engineering, a disappointing demonstration that less is less. (Informational novelty/kit. 8-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7107-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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