Title: Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo
Author: Greg Leitich Smith
ISBN: 0316011819
Pages: 188 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, c2003.

I hung up the phone and ran upstairs. My dad was in his third-floor tower den, attacking his cello with the bow, looking like he was trying to slice its strings in two.
When I knocked on the door frame and walked in, Dad pointed at me, his bow’s tip touching my chest.
“You,” he announced, “will be participating in your school science fair this year.” (2-3)

That’s how the trouble all started. Elias, named after his father’s favorite composer, figures the best and easiest thing to do is to “copy” his older brother’s science fair experiment in an effort to “obtain experimental confirmation.” Basically, he’s out to prove his brother’s experiement right a second time at his prestigious school science fair in Chicago. Shohei, his Japanese friend adopted by Irish-Americans, volunteers to help, but is being smothered by his parents attempts to expose him to all things Japanese. Honoria is skeptical that the project will work, but then again she’s the one trying to turn her piranhas vegetarian in time for the science fair. Will any of these classmates prove successful?

Hillarious. That’s the only way to describe this book. I think the title alone is a selling point, as people don’t normally lump those three things together. The cover lauds itself as the Writers’ League of Texas Teddy Award Winner for 2004, and also a winner of the Parents’ Choice Gold Award from the Parents’ Choice Foundation. It also has some great discussion points involving relationships, both friendship and familial, fairness, and culture and a short list of possible discussion questions are included in the back of the book. Told from alternating viewpoints from the three main characters, readers really get a glimpse at these three very different lives. Shohei’s younger, non-biological brother Tim becomes obsessed with ninjas as the family surrounds themselves with Japanese culture. Shohei convinces Tim (who wears a cape for no apparent reason) to water his plants for him because “the honor of the family depends on it.” (52) Brainiac Honoria incorrectly assumes that another classmate is sending her secret admirer letters. Several resulting scenes follow where she awkwardly confronts not only the accussed but also the real culprits of the letters. (She kind of reminds me of Hermoine from the Harry Potter series.) And finally there’s Eli, who must put up with everyone’s high expectations, especially those unfairly placed upon him by the science teacher. For communities like mine that every year become obsessed by the science fair, this is a book that I would love to hand to some of the kids and parents. There are some great ideas for projects in here, and while there’s no discussion as to their execution, it might serve as a launching point for the completely clueless. Libraries looking for a book discussion selection for the Make a Splash! theme summer reading them this year might like this book.

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