EngiNerds, Book 1

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
EngiNerds, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Rogue robots, realistic friendships in smart series launch.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows how sharing ideas and information can inspire creativity. Good example of problem-solving and scientific collaboration. Some discussion of atmospheric science. Some good vocabulary words like "imperative," "comestibles," and "abscond."

Positive Messages

Sometimes it's necessary to swallow your pride and ask for help. Putting down friends builds walls between you. What you intend as friendly teasing might feel very different to the recipient. Friends help get you out of trouble, not into trouble. People are seldom all good or all bad: Even people you dislike probably have talents, skills, or qualities you can appreciate. Teamwork makes it easier to tackle big problems.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All the boys are very bright but not very good at communicating with each other. Ken is curious and perceptive, good at considering the what-ifs and able -- eventually -- to check his assumptions. Dan is especially open-minded and stands up for a classmate Ken badmouths. The EngiNerds show great courage: They don't shy away from challenges and they're quick to help each other.

Violence & Scariness

Children attacked by robots suffer minor cuts and bruises; perilous encounters with aggressive robots.

Language

Potty humor language including "turd," "butt," "farted," and "poop."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that EngiNerds -- the promising start of a series by Jarrett Lerner -- is a well-written story about a group of engineering-minded 12-year-old boys whose technical know-how leads them in unexpected directions. There's a strong element of potty humor, but the book touches on substantive topics including friendship, respect, personal responsibility, and global challenges. A few children suffer minor injuries from the robots, and there are a few perilous moments. The EngiNerds seem to be ethnically diverse, but there are no female characters.

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What's the story?

Ken, part of a group of smart middle-schoolers called the ENGINERDS, is giddy when he finds a box on his doorstep full of parts for a robot. He and his friend Dan start to put it together -- but then the robot finishes assembling itself, introduces himself as Greeeg, and demands to be fed. Everything. Before long, Greeeg has consumed everything in the house and has begun firing dangerous cubes out of his bottom. Ken's enthusiasm gives way to dread as he, Dan, and fellow EngiNerds realize Greeeg is just one of many insatiably hungry robots whose single-minded mission is proving dangerous. As the robots grow more aggressive, Ken and his friends need to come up with a science-smart plan to fight back and -- hopefully -- save the world.

Is it any good?

Jarrett Lerner's strong entry into the growing genre of STEM adventures hits some of the hallmarks -- like robots and DIY problem-solving skills -- but adds a welcome dose of emotional authenticity. EngiNerds is narrated by Ken, who's alternately loyal, dismissive, warmhearted, cocky, humbled, and courageous. Readers may be drawn in by rogue robots and plentiful potty humor, but they'll stay for the well-developed story and perceptive portrayal of kids whose passions aren't always understood, even by their closest friends. The robots' raging appetites are good for laughs, but there's real food for thought in the backstory of how and why the robots were designed.

The book is crying out for a how-to on making a catapult from chopsticks -- but inspired readers may enjoy the challenge of figuring it out. A few plot threads hint at the direction of the next book, set up by a cliffhanger ending.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the EngiNerds try to solve problems they accidentally create. Do you think they're very responsible?

  • Do you think Ken is a good friend?

  • Which is more interesting to you: the science and engineering aspects of the story or the plot?

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