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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this story involves a terrorist plot to cause widespread panic through power outages -- the motives are silly ones, however, and not revealed until close to the end. A fake third-world country is also depicted in a very silly manor -- both its government and customs. The main character, Toby, makes some bad calls -- like selling his dad's Star Wars stuff behind his back to buy a computer -- but in the end he tirelessly tries to save the country, even though no one will believe him. The affluent kids at his school are all depicted in a negative light, cheating on their science fair projects and getting their parents to acquire top-secret technology to complete them. There are plenty of chases and escapes, none too scary, and many products play prominent roles in the story like the iPhone, Diet Coke, and Mentos.
What's the story?
Toby is determined to win the Hubble Middle School science fair, but he's got some much tougher competition than usual. The rich kids are getting their projects made for them like they do every year, but this time it's an international spy providing the project plans, plans that require the spoiled students' government-connected parents to unwittingly provide top-secret technology that could get the U.S. in a whole lot of trouble. As Toby begins to piece the plot together, no one seems to believe him except his two best friends and the eccentric owner of a mall science store.
Is it any good?
SCIENCE FAIR is hilarious. And unlike many books that go for humor over plot, this one ties each silly character quirk and wacky moment directly into the action that moves the story forward. The smelly cheese brought over by foreign spies is thrown at FBI agents in an escape, crazed Star Wars collectors have an appropriately goofy showdown in character with fake weapons, and a frog, a Wienermobile, and a giant Mentos all help foil a terrorist plot in some way.
There's only one minus to the fast-paced fun -- all those adults -- principals, the FBI -- that Toby tries to warn who just won't listen. The explanations that land him in more and more trouble get a little tiring. Otherwise, you can't beat this kind of story to keep all kinds of readers engaged and laughing out loud.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Toby's decisions. Why do you think it was so hard to tell his parents that he sold their Star Wars stuff, yet he came forward when he knew there was cheating -- and worse -- going on at the science fair? What would have been easier for you? What do you think about Sternabite's decision every year to help kids cheat on the science fair? How did he make up for it? Do you think all those gadgets he created could actually work in real life?