In this follow-up to The Discovery of Ramen (2018), Dao the red panda takes Emma and Ethan on another adventure.
On a visit to Chinatown, Emma (with light brown hair and brown eyes), and Ethan (who has Asian features) witness firecrackers exploding and are intrigued by the display. Dao appears and whisks them back to ancient China to learn about gunpowder, the key ingredient in fireworks. During the Han dynasty, alchemists working on a “magic pill” made a substance that created a “bigger bang” when heated. The recipe—two parts sulfur, three parts charcoal and 15 parts saltpeter—was gunpowder, also used in mining, to build roads, and in war. Then, in the 1800s, the Italians added metallic salts to the gunpowder recipe to create the different-colored fireworks we see today. This picture book is filled with fascinating facts (but no bibliography) that should intrigue any child who has seen a fireworks display, and it has many likable elements. These include kid-friendly characters and tidbits of chemistry, physics, and history. Furthermore, Calle’s dynamic animation-inflected illustrations keep pages turning. However, the stiff, teacherly text and incongruous storyline make it difficult to follow. Perhaps with a little effort, an adult can make sense of the historical events and chemical reactions that led to the development of the modern-day fireworks display.
In theory, a fun, STEAM-filled story idea; in execution, not so much. (glossary) (Informational picture book. 6-10)