May 28, 2012

Crunch and the Science Alliance

I'm going to read at least most of the Georgia Book Award nominees this year.  I'm done with our district "Reader's Rally" and am going to have just a book club instead.  I thought about us reading the Reader's Rally books without doing the competition (they have a good list of books this year) but decided on the book award nominees because I think the kids will get more out of defending, arguing for and voting for their favorites.

The only one I've already read is Turtle In Paradise by Jennifer Holm.  Which was great fun and is on the Reader's Rally list as well.

Crunch is about an actual oil crisis and the impact on one family in particular.  The Marriss family lives on a farm and our narrater is fourteen year old Dewey.  He has a brother around his age, Vince; and older sister, eighteen year old Lil the artist; and two younger siblings they're caring for.  Mom and Dad have gone off in his tractor trailer on a deliver-cum-couples vacation up north when some vague political mess leads to a massive gasoline crunch.  No fuel to be had anywhere.  It just so happens Dewey and his brother have been put in charge of Dad's little side job of repairing bikes while the folks are on their trip.  Suddenly, the crunch begins to hit them too as the bike jobs start piling up and things seem like they may get out of hand.

I like this one because I can see many discussion possibilities.  It's all about cooperation and teamwork and problem-solving without being overly didactic.  There are many other little roadblocks thrown up in our family's path: an obnoxious neighbor, some troubling thefts, the whole five siblings trying to work things out without Mom and Dad thing and various other minor setbacks.  But Dewey and the other Marriss kids do well on their own and figure out it's important to get help when you need it.

The characterization and the pace of this book were superb.  Never too much backstory and never too much dwelling on any single issue.  Dewey and his clan make a few mis-steps and tensions run high at times, but they all take their responsibilities seriously and do their best to keep things going.

I love that it's obviously set in modern day (there cellphones and internet connections) but there's too much real world stuff outside for these kids to do to let that stuff take up their time.  I also like how real the conflicts seem.  When Dewey has to deal with a particularly pushy customer on his own with no recourse to and adult he steps up and handles this very intense interaction in a realistic way.  I've dealt with people like that.  It's hard to stay diplomatic when you know you need to and this is a great example of that without hitting you over the head with it.

They also learn that helping people out is just good standard practice because it all comes back to you in the end.

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis is a hoot of a yarn.  Super nerdy inventor Julian Calendar is delighted when he finds out the family is relocating and he'll be going to a new middle school.  He can act like a normal, dumb kid and make friends!  He is intimidated by a crazy, tough bicycle-helmet wearing girl named Greta and sits near a big dumb-but-cool jock named Ben.  It later turns out they are smart inventors too and invite him to their secret and of course, amazing inventor lab/hideout.  They revel in their inventive nerdiness until an adult inventor steals their notebook and begins selling their inventions!  Then there is the small matter of a criminal mastermind breaking into the museum Greta's dad runs.  Can they and their gadgets save the day?

There are few surprises in the plot but everything works perfectly.  The characters are a wonderful mix of differing degrees of smart and confident.  Julian learns to embrace the geek; Ben is smart, good looking, athletic and a genius inventor but has trouble with spelling and chokes on tests. Greta is the most fun.  She's all sassy confidence and bravado.  Love her.

The illustrations are fantastically, nerdily detailed.  Some are like schematics of the plot.  Maps with arrows pointing out little details.  Tons of in jokes and fun references thrown in as well.  This can be picked up many times and something new will reveal itself.

But the best part is the secret hideout, the hilarious inventions and, of course, the fact that science is shown to be awesome!