Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Can't Keep a Genius Down! Phineas L. MacGuire Blasts Off! by Frances O'Roark Dowell

...I aimed my telescope out my window.... Venus, the evening star, was just coming out underneath an almost invisible moon. It was a very satisfying feeling to sit there with a sky filling up with stars in front of me and petri dishes full of developing bacteria beside me. My slime mold was up on the shelves over my desk, and my collection of the Mysteries of Planet Zindar books was under my bed.

Scientifically speaking, life does not get much better than that.

There's only one thing that can make fourth-grade science fan Phineas L. (Mac) MacGuire's life better--a week at Space Camp. Mom and step-dad Lyle are less than lukewarm and promise "maybe when you're older," but finally agree that if Mac can get a camp scholarship and earn the round-trip airfare to Alabama, they'll let him go.

But how does a nine-year-old come up with that kind of money in only five months? Mac's friend Aretha, the other smartest kid in his class, advises list making and positive thinking, and almost immediately a dog-walking job offers itself serendipitously as he steps off his bus:

At which time I was pulverized by a force larger than life.

This force is otherwise known as Lemon Drop, the world's biggest Labrador retriever, who belongs to my approximately eight-thousand-year-old neighbor Mrs. McClosky. Lemon
Drop knocked me down, slobbered all over my best Museum of Life and Science T-shirt, and practically strangled me with his leash as he planted wet goopy dog kisses all over my face.

Turns out Mrs. McClosky is in dire need of a daily dog walker, preferably one immune to the ick factor of dog slobber, and Mac is her man. With the $30 weekly stipend for walking him and throwing Lemon Drop's slobberball a couple of hundred times a day, Mac is more than halfway to his goal. The job comes with another unexpected perk, though--the opportunity to study the scientific properties of dog slobber--and in no time Mac, his videographer friend Ben, and Aretha, always alert for Girl Scout badge opportunities, are collecting slobber samples from Lemon Drop and every other dog they know, from Chihuahuas to Great Danes, with an eye to the advancement of their future careers firmly in mind.

"We'll build a multimedia website," Aretha suddenly exclaimed, practically hopping up and down in her seat. "We'll upload digital footage of Lemon Drop, post charts and graphs, even run experiments on his saliva. It will be magnificent."

Mac MacGuire is undoubtedly the funniest and easiest-reading fictional science geek hero around, and the latest installment in the From the Highly Scientific Notebooks of Phineas L. MacGuire series, Phineas L. MacGuire . . . Blasts Off! (From the Highly Scientific Notebooks of Phineas L. Macguire), (Atheneum, 2008) promises an engaging, laugh-out-loud story packed with humor, tantalizing science trivia and bona fide experiment instructions, and likable kid and grown-up characters which will appeal to middle readers, especially elementary guys who appreciate the delightful grossitude of Mac's chosen experiments. This book and its predecessors, Phineas L. MacGuire . . . Erupts!: The First Experiment (From the Highly Scientific Notebooks of Phineas L. Macguire) and Phineas L. MacGuire . . . Gets Slimed! (From the Highly Scientific Notebooks of Phineas L. Macguire) are great for reluctant readers and killer-diller read-aloud material to prime a class of reluctant science students to begin their own projects.

Oh, by the way, Mac makes it to Huntsville, Alabama, for Science Camp, and as he puts it

My name is Phineas L. MacGuire.

But you can call me Mission Specialist MacGuire if you want to.

In fact, I'd kind of prefer it.

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