March of the Mini Beasts
Sam Ricks, Illustrator
Simon & Schuster, 2016 125 pgs
DATA Set #1
Meet the DATA Set: three like-minded and diverse science-loving youngsters. While trying to raise money for a field trip for science club, the gang knocks on the door of Dr. Gustav Bunsen. The three friends are intrigued by the advanced equipment the scientist has in his house and he shows them his latest invention: a growth ray. The next day, while hanging out in their souped-up tree house, the doctor shows up with his invention perfected. They try it out on some plastic toy zoo animals. At first it doesn't seem to work and then, suddenly, the animals come to life, although remain small. Overnight a crazy thing happens; the animals start to grow and now the team has a problem. They will not fit in the terrarium originally designed for them, including the stegosaurus who was accidentally zapped with the other animals. What to do? The kids can't leave jungle animals running all over the neighborhood. The doctor helps them wrangle the animals up and then the team decides to take them to the zoo and secretly dump them as if they have always lived there. The plan works perfectly, except for the stegosaurus. He certainly can't go to the zoo. The doctor comes to the rescue again with his time-travel machine, another brilliant invention. He manages to blast the stegosaurus back to prehistoric times, but also blasts the kids along by accident. This will lead the reader straight to the next installment in the series: Don't Disturb the Dinosaurs, which was released simultaneously.
Hopper pens a series perfect for kids transitioning to chapter books that will be enjoyed by both readers who love science and those who don't. The vocabulary is controlled, the print is large, the margins are wide, and illustration grace every two-page spread. The children are racially ambiguous with Spanish last names, yet are not defined by their cultural heritage. The young lady of the group is the team's engineer, debunking gender stereotyping that boys are better at technical science than girls. Further debunking occurs with the character who is always eating for laughs. You would expect him to be a fat kid, which for some reason is funny to people, but he remains skinny, blessed with a fast metabolism. The doctor is charmingly scatter-brained, reminiscent of Doc Brown from Back to the Future fame. Many kid-pleasing elements make up the plot: toys coming to life, a really cool club house, and a live stegosaurus. The heroes seem to have a lot of freedom to explore their interests, which will also appeal to young readers. Word play and puns help to boost confidence as young readers get the jokes. Gentle humor and non-stop action will encourage kids to turn pages and the ending will naturally lead them to the next book in the series. This series has STEM appeal, which will make it a favorite for school use. Readers will be encouraged to develop their own inventions and, who knows, maybe bring their own toys to life.