Book Review: Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab

Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder.  November 2013. 9781594746482. Gr. 4-7.

There are a lot of middle-grade mystery and adventure books out there.  The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew/Scooby Doo sort of “kids solve a mystery” thing has been done a lot, so books in this genre have to have something unique about them to make them stand out to me.  Last year, I blogged about a book, The Templeton Twins Have an Idea, featuring a unique narrative voice and genius twins who make gadgets.  Similarly, this year I have found Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab, which takes things one step further by including illustrated instructions of the gadgets that Nick and Tesla use to unravel their mystery, so readers can build them at home right along with the characters.

Like the Templeton Twins series, Nick and Tesla are also hyper-intelligent twins, but while the Templetons’ main interest was inventing, Nick and Tesla are big fans of science.  When we first meet them, Nick is clutching a copy of Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time, and his sister is reading a copy of Theory of Applied Robotics.  They are off to stay with their offbeat Uncle Newt, who is a sort of mad scientist-inventor himself.  The adventure begins when Tesla’s necklace ends up over the fence of the neighborhood’s spooky house, and Nick and Tesla use their scientific knowledge and quick thinking to try and retrieve it and solve the greater mystery.

While the story is a good one, the book really comes alive by showing the do-it-yourself projects that Nick and Tesla create as part of the narrative.  For example, there are step-by-step instructions on how to make a diet cola and Mentos-powered car (to distract a robotic cat, of course), an intruder-alert system (built out of Christmas lights, batteries, and quarters) and a rudimentary electromagnet, among others.  This aspect of the book would be a great tie-in with a science classroom, allowing hands-on application of scientific concepts.  It would also be a great book to get in the hands of students needing science fair ideas, or those with parents that like to be creative and tinker!

Additional titles in this series are planned, with instruction on how to build basic robots, as well as how to make secret spy gadgets.  All in all, this is a promising start to a series and a unique take on a familiar genre.

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