CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 26. . . .March 13, 2015
The Mad Scientist Next Door. (Race Ahead with Reading).
Clare De Marco. Illustrated by Rory Walker.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2015.
32 pp., pbk., hc., pdf & html, $10.95 (pbk.), $21.56 (RLB.).
ISBN 978-0-7787-1366-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-7787-1305-0 (RLB.), ISBN 978-1-4271-7783-4 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4271-7771-1 (html).
Grade 1-3 / Ages 6-8.
Review by Carla Epp.
Ella watched as her face started to laugh. “We've swapped bodies,” said Mr. Willis with her voice. “I've been trying to do this for years, but I've only ever had cats to practice on before. Now you're me, and I'm you!”
“Swap us back!” shouted Ella. “It's not fair!”
“Not likely,” scoffed Mr. Willis as he ran past Ella and out the front door.
The Mad Scientist Next Door, by Clare De Marco, is an engaging story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Ella lives next door to the mean Mr. Willis, and she always tries to stay out of his way, but one day her little brother's teddy bear accidentally ends up in Mr. Willis' yard and Ella must go save him! Mr. Willis sees Ella trying to collect the bear from her side of the fence and tells her she'd better come over to get him. Although scared, Ella enters Mr. Willis' house and is surprised to discover that he has a huge laboratory. Ella pokes her finger into an electric current, and suddenly she and Mr. Willis switch bodies. He is thrilled by this and runs away so they cannot switch back. Ella begins to cry at the prospect of having to live in Mr. Willis' body, but she uses all of her wits and manages to come up with a plan to get the real Mr. Willis to return to his house so she can try to switch back their bodies.
The Mad Scientist Next Door is part of the “Race Ahead with Reading” series and is built to inspire confidence in young readers. This is a beginning chapter book that is broken into short chapters, and, although it is designed in this way, there are illustrations on each page to engage and encourage readers. Each chapter ends as a cliffhanger that will encourage even reluctant readers to want to continue on in the story. The language used is generally simple, but there are some words and concepts that children are likely to be unfamiliar with that will need explanation, words such as “scoffed”, “wheedled”, “catapulted”, and “bell jar”. The story ends very abruptly which may be jarring for many readers, but it ends in a way that invites conversations between readers and listeners about what will happen next. As an additional resource, the last page of the book has 'Notes for Adults' that provides useful tools for reading with young children and many questions that can be used to help children think through the story and enrich the reading experience. This 'Notes to Adults' page includes a suggestion that children create their own additional chapter of the book to explain what happens after the abrupt ending.
The illustrations in this story are colorful, busy, and reminiscent of something that might be seen on television. They are busy in a way that gives the viewer lots to look at and ponder. The illustrations are especially strong in the way they depict movement in the still images and in the portrayal of the characters’ emotions.
Overall, this entertaining story will be enjoyed by children and adults alike, but it will require discussion and explanation, especially for younger readers. Children will relate to Ella, particularly in her fear of the unknown and of someone she doesn't understand and in her desire to correct the mistake she made that negatively affects her younger brother. The Mad Scientist Next Door would be a good purchase for all libraries, particularly those with beginning reader collections.
Carla Epp is a hospital librarian with the University of Manitoba.
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