The Secret Science Society’s Spectacular Experiment (Kathy Hoopmann & Josie Montano, illus by Ann-Marie Finn, Wombat Books)
Since Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, the trend for kids’ books celebrating perseverance, creativity and innovation has seeped from nonfiction into fiction. Kathy Hoopmann and Josie Montano’s chapter book for readers aged approximately six to eight (the friendly black-and-white illustrations interspersed will help engage less confident readers) endorses the fun, excitement and humour available in science. This first book in a planned series builds on the authors’ backgrounds in both children’s fiction and in nonfiction about autism spectrum disorders. Narrator Zane, one of the four main characters, has ADHD; his best friend Bart is autistic; Kiki is challenged by her anxieties; and Mona (‘the Moaner’, the ‘Mona-saurus’) is un-pathologised and simply unpopular. Although not the story’s sole focus, the kids’ conditions are important elements of their personalities. When Mrs Mythos forces this unlikely group together, hoping they will learn from each other as they prepare for a science expo, the Secret Science Society is born. While the book has lots of positive intentions and some engaging moments, the story isn’t always compelling. Its best asset is its presentation of these characters—particularly the overenthusiastic Zane—as bright, energetic kids whose strengths are often connected to their syndromes, reminding us a diagnosis isn’t everything.
Anica Boulanger-Mashberg is an editor, writer and bookseller at The Hobart Bookshop