Your school days were never like this! Science, science fiction and adventure combine in this second story from the Sci Hi series. This time our intre...moreYour school days were never like this! Science, science fiction and adventure combine in this second story from the Sci Hi series. This time our intrepid team of students goes underwater . . .
In a near future world where technology is a bit more advanced than our own, Sidney Jamison is just your average curious kid with a penchant for taking things apart and figuring out how they work . . . and maybe getting them back together again. Okay, so Sidney isn’t quite so average, and neither is his school. Fourteen year old Sid is attending the elite school for budding scientific minds, Sci Hi where he and his friends, Penny and Hari can’t seem to keep themselves out of trouble–or adventures!
The class is invited to participate in the study at WAVElab of the world’s first fusion reactor–a not to be missed opportunity! But the class only just arrives when things take a turn for the worse. Scientists are going missing, just suddenly gone from the underwater lab. The new fusion reactor isn’t just creating energy it’s creating strange anomalies in the time and space around the lab and something terrifying has come on board . . . With time running out, it’s going to be up to Sid and his classmates to battle monsters, rescue the crew and explore the rips in time and space to see what lies beyond them.
Look around for middle grade books that deal with the possibilities of parallel dimension and multiverse theory in a science fiction frame work and you’ll find fairly slim pickings out there. Ripple Effect manages to tackle the idea admirably well–and give readers a great science fiction monster to boot! These are short and sweet stories: clocking in at 168 pages makes this a pretty quick read and perfect for those younger or more reluctant readers who are looking for an exciting story but intimidated by too much narrative. Swiftly turning pages full of action and characters are combined with black and white illustrations. Some of these illustrations are full page scenes from the story, while others are diagram line-drawings that depict a tool or building. I love some of the scene images, but I must confess to having a real love of the tech diagrams. Most science fiction works won’t give kids a real nuts and bolts approach to the items and structures described, and the benefit of having these in the books is that it reinforces possibility. Rather than this stuff simply being pulled out of thin air to benefit the storytelling, it can exist as a concrete idea of something possible to invent and construct.
For those interested, I reviewed the first book in this series, Hive Mind here. In the review I explained why books like this are so essential to make available to young readers. They are series books, meant to be read as an ongoing series of adventures, much like other fantasy adventure series and mystery series out there, but the key is they are not simply in a science fiction universe–the stories explore science and scientific concepts. And how best to nurture a new generation of scientists, engineers and inventors? Well one way is to excite them about the possibilities, show them ideas of the future to make them consider that they have a stake in making it happen–to give them stories about that future–narratives that can influence their own lives and ambitions.
One of the issues in the last book was that the overall conflict seemed short-lived and readers were left wanting more. Ripple Effect hits the readers with conflict from the very start. The prologue introduces readers to an ongoing subplot involving a nefarious organization called the Alchemists who are out to discredit and destroy scientific devices and also possibly exploit them for themselves. Sid’s own backstory winds up being tied into the confrontation with the Alchemists, creating a much needed dimension in Sid’s family life. The Alchemists appear to be up to their old tricks again . . . though their full agenda is unclear. (I’m hoping the organization proves to be more complex than a simple black and white ani-science league–villains are always more interesting when they have some rationality to their causes.) Overall, there’s a clear effort to give this book more dimension without sacrificing the style of story being told, it’s a stronger book overall and it’s clear the author is finding his stride in the writing of the series.
Part of those 168 pages are actually devoted to a Reader’s Guide section at the back of the book. It provides two pages of discussion questions that would be perfect prompts for using this in a classroom or in a book discussion group. The three pages have tidbits of actual science that are used in the story–these can be researched further by those who’ve had their interest sparked. There’s an additional challenge for readers to imagine an alternate world version of themselves and a number of other reader-related activities. It’s great stuff, especially for the reader who might have more trouble connecting with a book easily and can use some visual and tactile prompts to help make those connections.
I hope kids will pick these up and read them, and be inspired to discover, invent and explore!
Here are a few nonfiction reads to go along with the title:
A Black Hole is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami Decristofanom illustrated by Michael W. Carroll (Charlesbridge, 2012) Spiders by Nic Bishop (Scholastic, 2007) Predator by David Burnie (DK Publishing, 2011) Note: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher.(less)
I admit it, I looked at the cover and title of this with some measure of doubt. Magical libraries and people doing magic with books has been done and done again. And I read so many fantasy books for middle grade kids every year that I become well versed in tropes and cliches of the genre. I opened the book not expecting much, and I’m pleased to say I was proven wrong. This historical fantasy wound up being an excellent read with interesting characters, an unusual magic system and an eventful plot arc.
Alice realizes her world isn’t quite as steady and normal as she thought when she spies her father in a late night confrontation with a character she can only think of as a “fairy” (although a very creepy malevolent fairy). When her father is lost at sea soon after, Alice is sent to live with her mysterious “uncle” Geryon. Alice has never known about or heard of this uncle before, but now she is staying at his home. Geryon possess a huge libraray full of books, cats . . . and magic. Alice has always considered herself a rule follower and practical sort of person, but the lure of the library soon has her breaking rules. The library and its magic and the creatures brought from within it have something to do with her father’s presumed death–and with the strange fairy she saw. Alice wants answers more than anything else. With the help of a talking cat she’s determined to venture into the Library on her own, braving the magic there to seek out the truth. What she finds instead is her own latent magical talent. Alice is a “Reader” able to use the magic found in books. Her uncle wants to teach her to use her abilities, but can he be trusted? And can Alice master her own magic in time to find out?
Perhaps my favorite part of this story is Alice herself. Alice is a rather intelligent and practical girl who doesn’t intend to lie about when things go wrong, and has a pragmatic air of acceptance of things that just makes her fun to read. Rather than be utterly astonished by the existence of the magical and mystical world, or attempting to deny it, this self-possessed young lady calmly reconsiders her world view and soldiers on. Not that she’s accepting of everything–from the start it’s clear that rather than allow the world to simply overrun her and direct her, Alice has her own goals and interests in mind. She’s intent on finding the fairy she saw talking to her father. She resists killing creatures and imperils herself rather than kill something out of hand. A clever, self-sufficient heroine is a very enjoyable thing to read. My other personal delight is the cat. How can you not enjoy a cat named Ashes-Drifting-Through-The-Dead-Cities-of-the-World, (for short, Ashes). These things quickly made this more than your run of the mill fantasy story and fantasy heroine.
The story is well written, balancing characterization with a plot that ticks along at a steady pace, I never felt the story dragged or too much happened at once. The story is on the darker side with creepy magic, frightening critters, duels to the death . . . those who prefer a more lighthearted story may not find this quite to their liking. That said, for those who enjoy the thrill of the dark and deadly at a middle grade level of scary, this might be a good match. There’s a good deal about the magic system that’s not completely explained in this book–and I’m hoping we’ll see some time devoted to it in the next installment (I assume there is a second book at very least–too much was left unresolved). How the magic is excised from books, how prison and portal books are made . . . these things really need some extra details. But I’ll be eager to pick up the next book about Alice to find out what she’s up to at the Library.
How to Catch a Bogle by Catherine Jinks (HMH, 2013) Lirael by Garth Nix (Eos, c2001) The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand (Simon & Schuster, 2012) Note: An advanced reader copy was provided by the publisher.(less)