Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage – Book Review

6 March 2014 by GrrlScientist, posted in Book review

SUMMARY: This is the second book in a children's trilogy that follows the adventures of twin amateur sleuths who invent and build several science-y gadgets to aid them in their quest to solve a mystery.

Nick and Tesla are just 11 years old, but already, they are heroes. After their parents leave the country to conduct scientific research on soybean irrigation, the twins are sent across the country to spend the summer with their Uncle Newt in California. Within two weeks of arriving in the small coastal town of Half Moon Bay, they solve a mystery using some science-y inventions of their own making to free a kidnapped girl, as described in Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab [my review]. Most of us would consider that to be an exceptional beginning to what would probably be remembered as the best summer of our lives.

But in Bob Pflugfelder's and Steve Hockensmith's hot-off-the-presses sequel, Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage: A Mystery with Hoverbots, Bristle Bots, and Other Robots You Can Build Yourself [Quirk Books, 2014; Amazon UK; Amazon US/kindle US], the twins quickly find themselves embroiled in yet another mystery.

Uncle Newt falls madly in love with Hiroko Sakurai, a former researcher at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where Uncle Newt once worked. She has just arrived in town, having newly purchased the Wonder Hut, a local shop crammed with a variety of supplies that inventors of all ages can use to create a plethora of gadgets. Since eccentric Uncle Newt has just landed a job at a local amusement park, consulting on the engineering of animatronic figures for a cheap Hall of Presidents knockoff, he is immediately drawn to both the shop's supplies and to Hiroko's robot-building expertise.

Nick and Telsa and their friends also liked Hiroko. Not only has she restored the Wonder Hut to a true state of cleanliness, but she also has -- somehow -- tamed the normally surly salesman, Duncan, transforming him into something resembling a human being. The local business owners also become fond of her -- soon, every shop in town has its own specially-created robot mascot.

Meanwhile, a rare and expensive comic book disappears from the local comic shop, Hero Worship, Inc., which is owned by the Kuskie family. Silas Kuskie, the son, is one of the two boys who befriended Nick and Tesla shortly after the twins' arrival in the boys' sleepy hometown. Silas informs the dynamic duo that the sale of this particular comic would save his family's financial life; it would keep them from losing their store and from losing their house. Partially to distract her brother from dwelling on his growing concerns about the lack of promised communication from their parents and partially because she's a natural-born problem-solver, Tesla decides they both will help Silas's family recover this precious comic.

As with the first book, I found myself quite pleased that Tesla was the natural leader, and she was an avid fan of robots -- both qualities unheard of in a children's book, in my experience. I also enjoyed the dialogue, which was believable and often humorous.

Annoyingly, there is neither a table of contents nor an index, so it's difficult to find specific projects unless you've had the foresight to bookmark them in advance. As with the first book, I was not impressed by the illustrations, which are pen-and-ink cartoon drawings.

The instructions and diagrams for building robots are clear and easy to follow. There are five DIY (do-it-yourself) robot projects described in this book that a child and her parent can construct using items, such as plastic bottles and tubing, electric wires and a hot-glue gun, that are commonly found around most homes. These DIY robots include a PC leftovers wander-bot (which uses, amongst other things, a 3-inch fan from a computer), a semi-invisible bottle-bot, a homemade robo-roach (which uses LED lights and a toothbrush), a robo-angel hoverbot (which I think of as a homemade drone), and a super-soaker bot-blaster (which can use toilet water!).

According to my sources, this is the second book of a trilogy, and the third and last installment is due out in May 2014. This 224-page hardcover would be a fun gift for a child, especially if the more unusual supplies necessary to build the robots are included along with the book.

You can read an excerpt from Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage:

Reading on a mobile device? Here's the excerpt link.

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"Science Bob" Pflugfelder is a science teacher for the stars -- child actors, to be precise. He also has appeared on television programs and some of his experiments have been featured in several magazines including People, Popular Science, Disney's Family Fun, and WIRED magazine. Bob teaches science outside of Boston and develops experiments and videos to share with his website visitors. He can be found on twitter: @ScienceBob.

Steve Hockensmith is a writer who has written a number of children's mystery books and "romzomcoms" (romantic comedies with zombies). He also works as a journalist who writes about pop culture and the film industry for a number of publications including The Hollywood Reporter, The Chicago Tribune and Newsday. Steve currently resides in the San Francisco Bay area with his family. He can be found on twitter: @MrHockensmith

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When she's not reading books, Grrlscientist can be found on on her eponymous Guardian blog, and she sometimes lurks on social media; facebook, G+, LinkedIn, Pinterest. She's quite active on twitter: @GrrlScientist

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