A lively narrative that ably combines rocket science, humor, and relatable characters.

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JIMI & ISAAC 3A: THE MARS MISSION

From the Jimi & Isaac Books series

In this continuation of a middle-grade series, a middle schooler weathers setbacks and self-doubt in his quest to build a working Mars probe.

Mr. Berg, who takes guitar lessons from young Jimi’s dad, is a wealthy entrepreneur whose private aerospace company plans to send an astronaut into orbit around the Earth. When Jimi’s brainy best friend, Isaac, brags that building a small Mars probe would be no big deal, Jimi shrugs assent, so Mr. Berg calls their bluff. He gives the pair the basic criteria for the probe’s function, size, and weight, supplies them with funds, and names a deadline. If they succeed, he says, he’ll launch their probe from his orbiting rocket. Isaac takes the lead in the probe’s design but soon loses interest. When circumstances prod Jimi into seeing the project through, what began as a slapdash creation of cardboard and tape becomes a full-fledged science-fair project, and then a feasible, 3-D blueprint for a working probe. The novel relates this evolution in detail, framing the narrative as a scientific process of research, application, discussion, modification, and refinement. But Rink (Jimi and Isaac 2a: Keystone Species, 2014, etc.), a mechanical engineer, science-fair leader, and sports coach for kids, takes care that there’s nothing pedantic about Jimi’s bumpy ride to launch day. The soccer-playing, saxophone-playing, jazz-loving middle schooler observes his world with an authentic, humorous first-person voice. Jimi’s epiphany rings true when he’s struck by the fact that his fellow science-fair competitors have done “stuff that I never thought a kid could do,” that adults are interested in what they have to say, and that no one “told anybody to shut up all day.” As he sifts through research, his own and others’ “crazy ideas” and his sudden, “weird” leaps of insight, Rink’s message to readers is clear: that questions, mistakes, and a willingness to keep trying in the face of failure are integral to problem-solving and innovation—and that kids can be innovators, too.

A lively narrative that ably combines rocket science, humor, and relatable characters. 

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4563-0319-8

Page Count: 134

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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Moving and poetic.

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PAX

A motherless boy is forced to abandon his domesticated fox when his father decides to join soldiers in an approaching war.

Twelve-year-old Peter found his loyal companion, Pax, as an orphaned kit while still grieving his own mother’s death. Peter’s difficult and often harsh father said he could keep the fox “for now” but five years later insists the boy leave Pax by the road when he takes Peter to his grandfather’s house, hundreds of miles away. Peter’s journey back to Pax and Pax’s steadfastness in waiting for Peter’s return result in a tale of survival, intrinsic connection, and redemption. The battles between warring humans in the unnamed conflict remain remote, but the oncoming wave of deaths is seen through Pax’s eyes as woodland creatures are blown up by mines. While Pax learns to negotiate the complications of surviving in the wild and relating to other foxes, Peter breaks his foot and must learn to trust a seemingly eccentric woman named Vola who battles her own ghosts of war. Alternating chapters from the perspectives of boy and fox are perfectly paced and complementary. Only Peter, Pax, Vola, and three of Pax’s fox companions are named, conferring a spare, fablelike quality. Every moment in the graceful, fluid narrative is believable. Klassen’s cover art has a sense of contained, powerful stillness. (Interior illustrations not seen.)

Moving and poetic. (Animal fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-237701-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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Thought-provoking and charming.

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THE WILD ROBOT

A sophisticated robot—with the capacity to use senses of sight, hearing, and smell—is washed to shore on an island, the only robot survivor of a cargo of 500.

When otters play with her protective packaging, the robot is accidently activated. Roz, though without emotions, is intelligent and versatile. She can observe and learn in service of both her survival and her principle function: to help. Brown links these basic functions to the kind of evolution Roz undergoes as she figures out how to stay dry and intact in her wild environment—not easy, with pine cones and poop dropping from above, stormy weather, and a family of cranky bears. She learns to understand and eventually speak the language of the wild creatures (each species with its different “accent”). An accident leaves her the sole protector of a baby goose, and Roz must ask other creatures for help to shelter and feed the gosling. Roz’s growing connection with her environment is sweetly funny, reminiscent of Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family. At every moment Roz’s actions seem plausible and logical yet surprisingly full of something like feeling. Robot hunters with guns figure into the climax of the story as the outside world intrudes. While the end to Roz’s benign and wild life is startling and violent, Brown leaves Roz and her companions—and readers—with hope.

Thought-provoking and charming. (Science fiction/fantasy. 7-11)

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-38199-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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