Max Einstein: The Genius Experiment

Max Einstein: The Genius Experiment by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein is a juvenile fiction series about kid geniuses, perfect for 4-6th graders.

Twelve-year-old orphan Max Einstein knows nothing about her past or where she came from. Oh, and she’s a genius. She hacked into the records to attend NYU, she’s independent and looks out for her fellow homeless acquaintances. She is all alone until one day, Max is recruited by CMI, a mysterious good-doer organization called the Change Maker Institute.

CMI’s mission is to change the world for the better and with the help of other kid geniuses, Max may get the chance to do just that. But a shadowy corporation known as the Corp. is also out to “recruit” Max, by force if necessary.

Can Max and her friends stay safe from the Corp and change the world at the same time?

This is another STEM-y book I am going to use for my STEM book club. It’s a bit long for my crew but it reads pretty quickly, so I think it will be OK. It’s probably more of a 5-6 grade read, but we like a good challenge.

This was a really fun read. I liked Max as a character a lot. She’s smart, resourceful and caring. She’s also a strong character even though she has some insecurities. These insecurities, in fact, make her relateable even though we aren’t all geniuses like her. I also really like Max’s team of kid scientists. I think this is a really fun element and allows for a lot of different personalities work together.

I think this is going to be a great series for informing kids about what problems are out there in the world and getting them thinking about what part they can play in the crisis. This book gets a high 4 stars from me.

That’s all for now!


Sword and Pen

Sword and Pen by Rachel Caine is the last book in The Great Library series.

One battle has ended but the final battle has only just begun and the fate of The Great Library is in the balance. The corrupt Archivist has been thrown out of the Library but the threat he poses is still great. The Library is under assault by several foreign countries, all of whom want to help “rebuild” the Library.

Jess Brightwell and his friends must come together one final time to thwart the internal and external threats to the Library and it will take all their ingenuity and strength… maybe more than they have.

Will dawn bring a new future to The Great Library or will it fall forever?

I was actually quite satisfied with this book and it’s place as a conclusion to the series. Ends were neatly tied and the action, suspense and overall plot was neither under or over done. There was actually this tension throughout the book that accompanied the feeling of coming to an ending that felt quite appropriate to me.

The previous books all took place over a period of time, where this one happened over a 24-48 hour period. This really worked for me, especially since we were in Alexandria the whole time–the heart of The Great Library.

Jess’ storyline had a particularly good ending. I really felt that there was closure here and that we came full circle. I honestly can’t think of a better ending to the series; it was almost as if what was meant to happen, happened and I don’t feel like that is always the case in longer series like this.

I also love how historical people are written into the history of The Great Library, as if the Alexandria library never burned, this is what would have really happened.

This is one series I am not sad to see end because of how perfectly it wrapped up. This one gets a very high 4.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!


Chasing Helicity

Chasing Helicity by Ginger Zee is a juvenile fiction book for 4-6th graders.

For as long as Helicity can remember, she’s been fascinated with weather. She follows all the blogs and studies up, so when a “whopper” of a storm turns up on her doorstep, she should have been prepared. But when her town is decimated and her brother’s throwing arm is injured, Helicity searches for meaning in the aftermath.

Promising herself that she is a “survivor, not a victim,” Helicity becomes even more determined to understand these storms and all their power. So when an opportunity to study these storms, comes her way will she put aside her fear and chase it?

Boy was this book fast. The pace was quick and many of the plot points seemed almost hastily done. For example, a lot of emphasis was placed on the strained relationship between Helicity and her super strict father, and yet there was no real blow up or conflict resolution… She makes a speech, basically berating him, and he’s suddenly “proud.” There was just a lot of build up and not always much resolution.

I did like the story, especially Helicity’s love of weather and her brother’s increasing dependency on  pain pills. But it ends quickly an with a lot of cliffhangers. Good thing the second book is out, so you can read them both together.

I’d say this one is a solid fourth even third grade read. The content can be quite serious and suspenseful but the actual reading level is a bit lower. This one gets 3 stars from me.

That’s all for now!


STEM Book Club: Jack and the Geniuses

It’s fall and that means our STEM Book Club for 4-6th graders is back in session! For our first book we are reading Jack and the Geniuses by Bill Nye & Gregory Mone.

Jack, Matt and Ava aren’t your run of the mill orphans, they’re geniuses… well Matt and Ava are geniuses and Jack, he has the street smarts. Jack doesn’t resent his foster siblings exactly, but it can be hard to stand out when they know all the answer. This is especially true when the trio begin working for Dr. Hank Witherspoon, one of the worlds leading scientists. Ava tests the experiments, Matt talks shop with Hank and Jack, runs errands and answers emails…

That is, until the whole crew are invited to accompany Hank to Antarctica to judge a science prize worth a million dollars. But when they get there, they find out a fellow scientist has gone missing and no one seems to care.

It is up to Jack and his siblings to uncover the clues and save the day!

Here is my questions for guiding the discussion:

1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?  

2. Ava, Matt and Hank talk a lot of “science.” What are some of the scientific concepts hey discuss?

3. Jack and his siblings are “autonomous.” What does this mean and what do you think about how this affects their life?

4. On page 173, Jack says, “in a strange way we were starting to feel like a family.” What happens in the book to make us think this way? Give examples.

5. Jack is a super relatable, down to earth character. What are some ways you might relate to Jack or any of the other characters in this book?

6. The majority of this book takes place in Antarctica. What did you learn about Antarctica that you didn’t know before?

7. Jack and his siblings do a lot of detective work when they get to the station. What do you think makes a good detective?

8. A good portion of this book has to do with density. What is density and why was it so important to the plot?

9. Let’s talk gadgets? What was your favorite gadget that was used in the book?

10. This is the first book in a series. Can you make any predictions about what is going to happen on the kid’s next adventure?

Then we get into our STEM activity. This time we are doing a DIY Cartesian Diver.

 Supplies:  water, 16oz cup, scissors, 2 hex nuts, 2 pipettes, 1-lter bottle with cap; 16” of wire—cute to 10” & 6”

How To: PART 1

  •  Slip the hex nut onto the stem of the pipette. Screw it onto the base of the bulb. A few turns will hold it in place. Cut the stem a quarter-inch above the base.
  • Pour about 4 inches of water into the large plastic cup. Test-float the diver in the cup. It should bob up and down with the bulb sticking out of the water. Squeeze the bulb and draw some water into it by releasing your grip. Repeat this several times until the diver is half-full with water.
  • Let go of the diver to see if it still floats. When properly adjusted, the diver should just barely float in the cup of water. If the diver sinks to the bottom, grab it, squeeze out a few drops of water, then re-test it until it floats properly.
  • Fill the soda bottle all the way to the brim with water. This is VERY IMPORTANT! Place the diver in the bottle, but be careful not to lose any of the water inside the diver or out of the top of the bottle.
  • Put the cap on the very full soda bottle with the diver inside! Squeeze the sides of the bottle. Does the diver sink? You may have to squeeze very hard with both hands, depending on the water level in the diver. What happens when you release the squeeze?

How To: PART 2

  • Make another Cartesian Diver, with the directions in the first activity.
  • Wrap one end of the blue wire several times around the stem stump of the Cartesian Diver you’ve already tested. Make sure you wrap the wire between the bulb and hex nut. Shape the other end of the blue wire into a giant, J-shaped Hook.
  • Wrap one end of the red wire around the stem stump of the second diver between the bulb and the hex nut. Loop it over the diver’s bulb and wrap the other end around the stem stump, too. This diver will act as the Sinker.
  • Set up a float test for the sinker in the large plastic cup, just as you did when you built the first Cartesian Diver. This time, however, fill the sinker with enough water so it barely sinks to the bottom of the cup.
  • Top off the soda bottle with water, pull the sinker out of the test cup and drop it into the top of the bulging soda bottle. Again, make sure that the bottle is absolutely full with water (the diver won’t work if there’s any air in the bottle). Check the bulb to make sure that it hasn’t lost any water and then drop the diver with the hook into the bottle. Screw the cap on the bottle as tightly as you can.
  • Squeeze the sides of the bottle. The hook will dive to the bottom. The object of the game is to catch the sinker with the hook and lift it to the surface. You may have to make some adjustments on both the hook and sinker to get this to work, but it’s all part of the game!

What’s Happening? 

The Cartesian Diver is a classic science experiment that’s hundreds of years old. It’s named for a Frenchman, René Descartes (1596-1650), who made huge contributions in the fields of philosophy, math, and science. The original Cartesian Divers were made out of glass medicine droppers or delicate glass ampules.

When you have the water levels adjusted correctly in your new, unbreakable divers, you should see the water in the diver rise as you squeeze the bottle. The air trapped in the pipette compresses into a smaller space and the diver’s weight increases. It becomes less buoyant and it sinks. When you release the squeeze, the compressed air expands and forces water out of the diver, allowing it to float to the top of the bottle.

Note: If the bottle requires a super-strong squeeze to move the diver, there isn’t enough water in the pipette. Remove the diver from the bottle and increase the water level in the diver so it just barely floats.

Resources: A special thanks to…

Click to access jack-and-the-geniuses-teacher-guide.pdf

Density Divers

How’d it go:

We only did part 1 of the experiment because we ran out of time, but as the kids put it, “wow, this was actually cool.” From 4-6th graders, I’m pleased. We were a little rambunctious, which we will have to work on, but other than that, I think everything went really well. We came. We saw. We got wet. We conquered this book

That’s all for now!





The Planet Earth is Blue

The Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos is a juvenile fiction book with a lot of heart.

Twelve-year-old Nova is a smart, curious little girl, who loves space and just happens to be severely autistic and nonverbal. She can’t wait to see the first teacher launched into space on the Challenger mission. Nova’s big sister, Bridget, has promised that they will watch the shuttle launch together but Bridget has disappeared and Nova has been placed in a new foster home.

Even though Bridget has always stood up for Nova, telling anyone who would listen that “(her) sister is a thinker, not a talker,” all of her teachers and previous foster homes have dismissed her as “mentally retarded” and unable to comprehend what people are saying. As time moves on Nova’s new school and foster family begins to see how aware she actually is. The story unfolds as Nova counts down to the launch and the moment she’ll see her sister again.

I finished this book and literally told everyone I could that they should go out and read it–child, adult, everyoneThe Planet Earth is Blue is just fantastic! I’ve received some training about working with patrons on the autism spectrum recently, so this book was just so timely.

I love how Panteleakos was able to give a voice to Nova through her diary. We see the world through Nova’s eyes and we see what triggers she has even if the characters in the story Nova interacts with do not.

It was also really interesting to go back in time, really not that long ago, and see how Autism was treated. Nova’s foster mother eventually provides her with pictures and words to help her communicate and it’s amazing to see how far we have come today and how far we still have to go.

There was also the pending Challenger launch counting down throughout the story. And knowing that the Challenger explodes, there’s that bit of tension throughout the story as well. It’s a bit overshadowed by Nova and Bridget’s story but it is still quite poignant reading about classrooms of children and teachers over the nation witnessing the event live.

I honestly can’t praise this book enough. It get’s five stars from me.

That’s all for now!