Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Brian Biggs, 192 pp, RL: 3
Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka with fantastic illustrations by Brian Biggs is the book I have been most anticipating this year and it definitely delivers! Of course, everyone knows Scieszka, the author of contemporary picture book classics like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales, but The Time Warp Trio, his chapter book series which debuted in 1991 holds a special place in my (and my kids') hearts. Combining smart humor and history, The Time Warp Trio was a brilliant and singular alternative to the Magic Tree House and Junie B Jones chapter books when my daughter started to really read in the late 90s and again when my boys began reading. For me, reading Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor is a little like coming home and I hope that this six book series will make a brand new generation of readers laugh, think and, best of all, want to read more!
Brian Biggs, author and illustrator of the superb Everything Goes series of picture books that are part Richard Scarry, part Where's Waldo, brings the world of Frank Einstein vividly and hilariously to life. Biggs's illustrations are as jam packed with details as Frank's workbench, but what I especially love are the full and half-page infographics that Biggs illustrates with a background of graph paper. In figures 1.0 through 1.24, Biggs diagrams everything from how a maglev skateboard works to how Frank rigged his stuffed, singing bass on a plaque to the doorbell to the mechanics of a squirt gun. I couldn't imagine Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor being illustrated by anyone else.
Frank's story begins one night in the town of Midville, in the middle of a thunder and lightning storm, amidst a "workbench covered with the bits and parts of twenty years' worth of mechanical, electrical and plumbing repairs" from Grandpa Al's Fix It! shop. Frank Einstein and his pal Watson, the inventor of "Universal-Strength Peanut Butter Chewing Gum," are hoping to spark life into a toaster-headed SmartBot with the hope of winning the Midville Science Prize. The stakes are raised when T. Edison and and Mr Chimp, an actual, suit wearing chimpanzee and CFO who communicates in sign language (a diagram of Mr. Chimp's signing alphabet is included in the back of the book and signed images of his utterances, including, "Peace Out," appear in the story) show up at the Fix It! shop with a deed showing that Grandpa Al has signed over his shop to Edison in the event that Frank doesn't win the Science Prize.
Add to this Frank's inventions/creations Klink and Klank, the Frog and Toad of robots with the ability to think for themselves using "a biophysical model from human neuroscience." Frank has the Bots read Isaac Assimov's I, Robot and memorize the Three Laws of Robotics before setting them to work. Besides the SmartBots, there is an endless parade of inventions and experiments from a "Model-Train Shoe Delivery System" to a "Double Helix DNA Slide" and "Dimetrodon Phone" in the shape of an actual dinosaur, the fin-like backbone serving as a video screen that allows Frank to see and talk to his globetrotting parents. Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor is a book filled with things that will engross, engage and even inspire readers to do a little science of their own.
Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor truly is filled with scientific details on so many levels that kids won't even realize all the information within. One of my favorite subtleties comes when Mr. Chimp pulls a small, metal box out of his pocket and dips into with a stick. When he removes the stick, it's covered in ants, and he proceeds to lick it like a lollipop. Maybe Mr. Chimp's snacking habits will even lead readers to learn about Jane Goodall, the first scientist to record animals using tools after observing. In 1960, Goodall observed a chimpanzee as he stripped the leaves off a twig, stick it into a termite hole then eat the bugs that clung to it. One thing is for sure, readers will be counting the days until the next book in the Frank Einstein series hits the shelves!
Source: Review Copy