Friday, May 9, 2014

Scientific Adventures

"Science Bob" Plugfelder

"Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith collaborated in a unique way for Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage, illustrated by Scott Garrett. The series centers on two 11-year-old science-minded twins who are staying with their scientist uncle while their parents are out of the country on a work assignment. Pflugfelder, an elementary school science teacher, designs science experiments key to solving the mystery in each book. Hockensmith plots and writes the mystery, integrating the science experiments.

For Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage, their second book together, Hockensmith had a plot he liked but was struggling to incorporate the robot army without taking Nick and Tesla out of their uncle's neighborhood. According to Hockensmith, Plugfelder suggested a solution that would keep them in the neighborhood, and also stick with the reality they'd established in the first book, Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab. "I think that's what defines a series when you're getting it started," Plugfelder said. "We wanted readers to buy into the reality but at the same time to take them on adventures they couldn’t maybe go on on their own."

And the best part is that the twins are normal kids, just like readers. "Nick and Tesla are not geniuses; they're problem-solving kids," Pflugfelder said. "A situation comes up and they say, can we build something that can help us with that? They're resourceful kids with fourth-grade knowledge." For the five science projects in this book (and also for the previous book), the materials are either household items or available at a place like Radio Shack.
Steve Hockensmith

The Hardy Boys series and Jean Craighead George's My Side of the Mountain were Pflugfelder's favorite books as a child, he said last year on a middle-grade book panel at Book Expo America. He liked the idea of contributing to a series that had both mystery and science elements. "I'm one of those kids who would have flipped through and seen the instructions for the projects in this book and picked it up," he said. "I'm the kid who read the Hardy Boys and then would go and make the projects." Hockensmith, on the other hand, said, "I would have been the kind of kid who'd read the story and enjoy it, and my eyes would glaze over when the projects came along." Together, Hockensmith and Plugfelder make ideal collaborators for these scientific adventures.

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