Experiment 256

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Illustration of a dog with a pilot's goggles on and a backpack

The whole world has gone STEM crazy. That’s why author Marty Kelly’s newest picture book, Experiment #256, should be a welcome addition to any young reader’s (male and/or female) bookshelf.

In this hilariously-illustrated book that is written in the format of notes and “hits-and-misses,” a young, fearless scientist named Ian is hard at work in his bedroom/science lab, experimenting on ways to build a jet pack for his pudgy little bulldog, Wilbur.

Young readers are introduced to Ian’s cluttered world of experimentation in the opening pages. They see gadget parts, glue, open books, a trash can full of balled-up paper (obviously previous experiments that didn’t quite work), and curly-haired Ian with his tongue poked out to the side in concentration, and a pencil shoved behind his ear. Not far away, his faithful dog Wilbur lounges on the carpet with an “I wonder what he’s doing” look on his puppy-dog face. But readers know what Ian is doing. He has just built a jet pack for Wilbur, but he has also made a curious notation that makes an unspoken promise that this book will be full of adventure. He writes:

“I have quite a few parts left over.”

If young readers don’t recognize that such a notation spells adventure and good natured mishap, they will soon find out. On the very next page, readers see Wilbur launched into the air and leaving a zigzag cloud of smoke behind him as the jet pack carries him away on the wind. Wilbur flies into sister Lisa’s bedroom (without knocking!), disturbs Grandma’s bath, and mows down the broccoli garden — something that inspires Ian to make a happy face in his diary.

This truly is a delightful book. It’s an adventure, but it’s also a lesson in scientific thinking, journal writing, and trial and error. Readers get to read all of Ian’s notes, including thoughts on what he did wrong, what he got right, and how others reacted to the results of his experiments. The illustrations include bright colors, wide-eyed expressions, and ever-changing landscapes (Wilbur’s flight takes him all over the place). But the good thing is, no matter where Wilbur goes or where he lands, readers can easily see that he is never hurt or frightened — he’s just surprised. What a delight!

Use this book in early elementary science classes to inspire young scientists to ask questions, write down their observations, journal their hits and misses, and share them with other. Or, simply use it to stir up a bit of laughter.

Enjoy!

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