As New York Times bestselling author Jon Scieszka celebrates the 25th anniversary of his first picture book, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, he also launches a new science series targeted to middle-grade readers. His latest book, Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor, explores matter.
Frank Einstein loves experimenting with household appliances and creating something unusual, like his two robots, clever Klink and crazy Klank. Grampa Al gives him the freedom to mess with anything (and everything) around the house. Frank’s goal is to invent an Antimatter Motor and win the Midville Science Prize, that is until his classmate and evil competitor T. Edison ruins everything.
My 11-year-old science enthusiast related to Frank’s curiosity. He particularly liked his one-of-a-kind alarm clock invention. Unlike standard clocks, this one functions more like a Mousetrap game, opening the vertical window blinds to let the morning sun wake Frank up.
Scieszka, known for his humorous titles like The Stinky Cheese Man and Science Verse, fulfills his mission to make kids laugh with this new novel. He goes on to prove that he can effectively connect children to real science while making learning fun. Brian Biggs’ elaborate diagram illustrations also help present scientific facts in graphic form. Overall, Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor has all the right ingredients for action-packed, sci-fi entertainment.
Memphis Parent’s Meena Viswanathan conducted an email interview with author Jon Scieszka to learn more about the inspiration behind his new series.
Memphis Parent: Why a science series for middle grade readers?
Jon Scieszka: I love middle grade readers. They are already so passionate about discovering everything that I don’t really need a formula to “hook” them. I just set up a world where I get to present, in story form, all of the cool things that science covers.
MP: In your autobiography Knucklehead, you mentioned how you enjoyed reading Golden Book Encyclopedias for their informative graphics. Did this provide inspiration for your book?
Scieszka: Absolutely. Those Golden Book Encyclopedias are still a treasure trove of what is now called info-graphics. Kids today are so much more visually literate than ever before. And it’s a vital and necessary skill for navigating the modern world.
So in all Frank Einstein books, the illustrations are not just added to the story. They are the story. The explanation of how matter and antimatter interact, the different speeds of sound and light, what Einstein’s formula of E=mc2 … all are key to the action of the story.
MP: In your book, Grandpa Al reminds Frank Einstein, “Science is about asking questions, not memorizing answers.” As a teacher, you enjoyed kids asking questions and give them credit, saying you learn phenomenal stuff from them. Who awakened your curiosity?
Scieszka: I was lucky enough to have all kinds of great teachers. So I loved all kinds of subjects: algebra, comparative anatomy, history, literature, religion, and philosophy.
And my mom and dad always valued education in the most meaningful way. They encouraged me and my brothers to learn how to learn, to satisfy our own curiosity, to answer our own questions. Not to just get good grades. I think I liked science most for very practically learning how the world works. Finding out things like how plants grow toward the sun, how DNA makes a copy of itself, how blood travels through your body.
MP: Your main characters bear a great resemblance to famous scientists Einstein and Edison. What’s the reason behind naming them after legends?
Scieszka: I always love to lead my readers to more fun and knowledge beyond my books. I know kids will look up Frankenstein, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison. And maybe later they’ll make the connections to Frank’s pal, Watson, or the way the robots Klink and Klank resemble George and Lennie from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
MP: You mix science and silliness in equal proportions here. What do you hope kids will take away? And after exploring matter, where will your potent energy take you next?
Scieszka: I’m hoping kids will get the combination of awe and wonder and excitement I always got from science. Not the dogma and tests and memorization and rote answers that can kill the fun of science. Interesting you should use the word “energy.” The next book, Frank Einstein and the Electro-Finger (March 2015) is all about energy. I’m going to try to cover all of science in exactly six Frank Einstein books: Matter, Energy, Human Body, Life, Earth, and the Universe. And I’m having a scientific blast doing it.
Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor • Written by Jon Scieszka. Illustrated by Brian Biggs. Published by Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS New York. Available at frankeinsteinbooks.com, local libraries, and The Booksellers at Laurelwood.