I am a huge fan of books that manage to entertain kids and teach them at the same time. I’ve written a few myself (that I hope were inspirational to some budding engineers or programmers out there), so I know it can be difficult to wrap an engaging storyline around a set of science or math concepts and projects.
I recently stumbled upon a new series from Quirk Books which starts with Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab and introduces readers to a set of twins, Nick and Tesla, who are sent to stay with inventor Uncle Newt while their parents are away in Uzbekistan… studying soybean growth. Uncle Newt has a house full of strange equipment and inventions, tools galore, and pretty much no rules. His exact words are “Go nuts.”
And that’s exactly what these two eleven-year-olds do over 230+ pages — they tinker, invent, destroy, make mistakes, and learn a lot. A mysterious van is following them, there’s a strange mansion next door guarded by two large Rottweilers, and a ghostly girl staring at them from a second-story window. All of this stuff is going on in their uncle’s neighborhood, and they’ve their uncle’s permission to use anything and everything they can find. Well… almost everything.
What’s so fun about the book is the additional five projects that are included for readers to build. These projects are items that Nick and Tesla create to solve problems in the story, so young readers will get to pause and build a project before reading on and learning how their solution has been used by Nick and Tesla. The projects include:
* A rocket and launcher made from PVC and a 2-liter bottle
* A decoy “cat” made from a bottle of soda and Mentos
* A glow-in-the-dark solution for tracking that strange van
* A quiet intruder alert system
* A custom-made electromagnet
The mysteries that Nick and Tesla face are entertaining, and the projects that readers are invited to duplicate are fun and completely doable with a parent or teacher’s assistance here and there (some help for assembly and some help for gathering of equipment).
The book is written by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith, and I was glad to hear that this is a planned series with the next book due out in February 2014 — Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage. Sounds promising! (I also see a third book tentatively scheduled for May 2014 titled Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle.)
The book is small like many middle-grade readers, and has a number of illustrations scattered throughout the chapters (in addition to the illustrations for the five projects). The graphics inside the book are simple and eye-catching with blue-on-white electrical symbols here and there… and I think any young reader opening up this book is going to really appreciate the opening page that provides the huge DANGER! DANGER! warning about the risks involved in the projects and disclaiming any liability and encouraging common sense. What kid is going to stop reading there, right?
The chapters are short and sized perfectly for quick reading between class breaks or on short car rides. Nick and Tesla are fun characters (and they’re not the only characters that readers will come to enjoy) and the fast-paced nature should have you hearing “just one more chapter.”
I love that kids these days are being encouraged to investigate, tinker, and ask questions. Showing an interest in math and science is cool! (To be honest, it always has been… but only those of us who did it truly knew how cool it was!) And what a great way to show kids that problems can often be solved by applying a bit of creative energy with some tech know-how. And Nick and Tesla (and Uncle Newt) are the perfect companions for your young reader looking for some (safe) adventures. You can get your kids started with the first adventure that’s out now — Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab.
Note: I’d like to thank Nicole at Quirk Books for providing me the Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab book for review.