Nick and Tesla’s Solar-Powered Showdown, by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hocksmith/Illustrated by Scott Garrett (May 2016, Quirk Books), $12.95, ISBN: 978-1-59474-866-0
Recommended for ages 8-12
Super smart siblings Nick (short for Nicolas) and Tesla are back, and so is Uncle Newt, plus friends Silas, and DeMarco! Nick and Tesla are having a heck of a summer: their parents are still missing, and all signs point to them being kidnapped, possibly by an evil mastermind. This latest installment in the popular middle grade mystery series has brother and sister working together to create all sorts of solar-powered gadgets that will get the attention of their government contact, distract the bad guys, and save the day. Let’s hope it’s enough!
This is such a fun series for middle graders, because it puts the power in their hands. Nick and Tesla are competent, smart kids that aren’t middle school pariahs; they have fun, wacky friends, and they have a strong, supportive – if eccentric – family. They can MacGuyver a solution to seemingly every problem: from getting a secret agent’s attention, to cooking hot dogs using a Pringles container and solar power. The best part? The kids can recreate the experiments! As with the other books in the Nick and Tesla series, Solar-Powered Showdown features five projects readers can make along with the twins: a a hot dog cooker, listening device, nighttime LED signal cannon, range rover, and alarm bell. All solar-powered, and all easy to make (with adult supervision).
You don’t need to be intimately familiar with the series to pick this one up – this is the first book I’ve read in the series; it’s been on my “to get to” list for a while – because the text will fill you in, usually via humorous footnotes, on what’s happened in the previous books. A note at the beginning of the book lets parents and kids alike know that project instructions should be reviewed by an adult, and that adults should supervise and assist on each project. The instructions are detailed, numbered, and illustrated, really encouraging kids to go for it and create exciting, sustainable things!
The Nick and Tesla website has videos, educator guides, book excerpts, and downloadable shopping lists, by book, for each of the projects featured in the novels. You can submit your own work for them to check out, too.
I’m working on a lot of STEM/STEAM ideas for Summer Reading, so this series will be on display, along with Gene Luen Yang’s Secret Coders and HowToons graphic novels (the second Secret Coders book is due out in August!), and Jon Sciezska’s Frank Einstein series of novels. Get kids thinking and creating this summer!
Need more ideas? Science Bob has tons of them on his own website, and his Instagram has some very cool science facts and videos, like Tesla coils at work and BB8 droids under construction.
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