Fans of Dr. Stone and science-themed adventures won’t want to miss Science Ninjas: Big Trouble with Simple Machines by Nathan Schreiber.
From the co-creator of the popular chemistry game, Valence, comes a book that makes learning physics fun! Set in a place far in the future, three young science ninjas test their strength and physics knowledge as they embark on a treasure hunt to find a prize that could revolutionize energy. Along the way, they must use ramps, wedges, screws, levers, pulleys, wheels, and axles to solve a series of puzzles before the mechanized drones can stop them.
The book is a great tool for teaching basic physics to tween readers. Edited by middle and high school science teachers, each chapter covers a different simple machine in addition to exploring principles of force, work, and mechanical advantage. It forgoes watering down content in favor of proper terminology, inserting plenty of examples within the storyline to make complex concepts accessible. Back matter extends these lessons with a glossary of terms and experiments readers can do at home.
If this sounds a bit too cerebral for the typical tween, rest assured there is plenty of action, drama, suspense, and humor to keep readers engaged as they learn. The dialogue is smart, and the characters are fully formed, quirky, and downright likable. The three young protagonists include a science genius and two science ninjas—genetically modified humans who are super strong, but need a bit of training at the Science Ninjas Academy to unleash their full potential. (Keep an eye out for clever names like Carlos Einstein, Dr. Eureka Fermi, and Julie Joules!)
What gives the book its personality is the deep connections between the main characters, who gradually reveal their inner struggles as the adventure unfolds. While physics may be front and center, equally important is the friendship and support they offer one another. In the spirit of physics, Carlos Einstein says it best when he explains that dealing with life’s challenges means pushing back with more force than any one of them could alone. Friendship is quite literally their very own simple machine.
Supporting characters also are a lot of fun, including a robot cat and security drones that remind me of futuristic Minions with their big, yellow heads. These little bots spend just as much time apologizing as they do policing, but the considerate “baddies” most definitely heighten the suspense level as our heroes juggle solving physics puzzles with escaping capture.
The book features bright pages with colorful illustrations in a cartoon-like style. Warm and engaging, the images create a fantasy world filled with absorbing landscapes.
From an educational perspective, the pictures also help clarify science concepts difficult to grasp from the text alone. This multi-modal approach to learning uses both text and image to teach content, highlighting important information in a way that breaks the written word up. This is a handy way to prevent readers from feeling overwhelmed as they tackle increasingly complex subject matter.
Admittedly, I had to reread some paragraphs and go over the accompanying images a few times to pick up everything. Even then, I didn’t grasp it all, but younger readers with more background knowledge and/or academic support should have a much easier time.
Overall, this book is an engaging and educational read that would fit well in a science classroom or a library’s tween section. Readers will enjoy the video-game like vibe as the characters battle mini science challenges using their knowledge of physics and a few key tools. Each challenge moves them closer to the ultimate prize, and the ending will definitely surprise.
Science Ninjas: Big Trouble with Simple Machines
By Nathan Schreiber
Science Ninjas, 2019
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)
Related to…: Game to Comic