Friday, April 18, 2014

The New Adventures of the Mad Scientists' Club by Bertrand R. Brinley, illustrated by Charles Geer

Still going retro here! Now you know why I called my after school club the "Mad Scientists Club". Although it's really a pretty common name, it was actually this book that I had in the back of my mind.

I have a fairly large collection of what I call "small town adventures". Although they often seem to represent a stereotypical 1950s lifestyle, they're mostly written during the 1960s-70s. They show groups of kids (generally all white) roaming about a small town with almost complete freedom to solve mysteries, track down criminals, invent things (often involving explosions) and generally create havoc.

Now, I'm not in favor of going back to the "good old days" when kids "used their imagination and didn't play all these video games" (shakes cane and yells). For one thing, stories like these were as unrealistic when they were written as they are now. Most kids didn't build their own submarine, solve crimes, etc.

However, what I really love about these stories (and yes, I am going to actually talk about this one) is first of all that they're funny, but secondly that the kids are exploring, experimenting, and learning and they're having fun. That's what I think is missing in how kids are learning about science - they need to know it has practical applications and that it can be fun. This is the spirit I want to have in my after school clubs, that science is something everyone can do, that you don't need a teacher or a parent or a librarian, that you can try things out on our own. This is part of the reason I don't have a "lecture" portion to my club and why I constantly encourage the kids to "just try it!" and if they don't like the project "try something else!".

So, actual book time! This is the second collection of stories about the Mad Scientists Club. There are seven boys in the club (girls are totally peripheral characters in this series) and they work on various science projects together, led by their president Henry Mulligan. They're impeded in scientific progress by the occasional interference of adults, including the stereotypical Irish policemen, and their rival club, led by Harmon Muldoon, ex-scientist who was kicked out of the club. These are definitely of their time stories, with an all-white, all-male cast, and various references that will strike jarring notes for the modern reader, like the story "Big Chief Rainmaker".

Verdict: Would I recommend that you purchase these books for a modern library? Probably not. There are reprints available from Purple House Press, but they're pricey and, as I stated earlier, these are outdated in many ways. However, I've kept the copies our library previously owned on the shelf and they do circulate occasionally - parents with a lot of restrictions on what they want their kids to read will often prefer these older books, since they don't care about the stereotypes. I have my own copies and I enjoy the humor as well as the attitudes towards science. I recommend reading them to get some ideas for how to introduce your patrons to science and for a laugh, and if they're still circulating I'd keep them in your collection, but they're not a necessary addition that I would recommend purchasing if you don't already own them.

ISBN: 0590098535; Published 1968 by Scholastic (this edition is out of print); From my personal library

1 comment:

Ms. Yingling said...

Anything with Charles Geer illustrations makes me sigh happily. I don't have these, but do have a few similar titles. Think the Scholastic paperbacks my mother had of these crumbled to dust!