Friday, January 26, 2018

Charlie Numbers celebrates Science and Diversity

Tomorrow is Multicultural Children's Book Day. So I'm taking the opportunity to share a novel that includes not only a diversity of characters, but a strong STEM component. If you are a fan of the TV series "Scorpion" (or the older "Numbers"), this will appeal to you.

Charlie Numbers and the Man in the Moon
by Ben and Tonya Mezrich
208 pages; ages 8-12
Simon & Schuster, 2017

Charlie Numbers is a smart kid. Fortunately he's got a gang of like-minded friends who, by banding together, manage to survive the hassles and bullying that middle school life can bring. We meet them in the early chapters, where they are hurrying to finish a project for school that involves baking soda and vinegar. And no, it's not a volcano.
When Charlie is approached by a man and woman who say they are from NASA, he is intrigued. They need a favor - and in the process he and his friends get drafted to compete in a national paper airplane contest at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. Soon Charlie and his friends find themselves caught in a mystery filled with corporate espionage and lots and lots of calculations regarding lift, thrust, resistance, and gravity.

In addition to the science, math, and engineering that are essential to the plot and fabric of this book, there is a fun cast of wonderfully diverse characters who make up the Whiz Kids. Charlie is a numbers guy who has never done anything practical like paper airplanes. Crystal is passionate about geology, Kentaro is a linguistics genius, Marion  is an artist, and Jeremy has mad math skills.

What I like about the book - in addition to the STEM that is woven through every aspect of the story - is the understanding that we work better when we work together. Teamwork is vital to solving engineering problems, even if it is paper airplane engineering, and a team with diverse skills and personalities brings more to the group - at least that's my opinion.

Author Tonya Mezrich graciously answered a couple questions about the writing process. Turns out she's been helping Ben behind the scenes as a researcher for his other books....and when I asked about inspiration for this book, she confessed that Indiana Jones may have played a part.

authors Ben and Tonya Mezrich
Tonya: We were both fans (of Indiana Jones) and loved to imagine kids solving mysteries in the same exciting action-packed way. Another inspiration is Encyclopedia Brown and Harry Potter. We love the idea of creating a modern day Encyclopedia Brown with kids solving mysteries in today's settings. We also love the magic element of Harry Potter. For Charlie, math and science is his magic.

Archimedes: What makes a book "multicultural" and how does that relate to your book?

Tonya: Our book has a strong Asian character, Kentaro, who is integral in solving the mystery. I am Asian and was always faced with the typical stereotype that I should be good at math and science. (note: Tonya is... she's a dentist!) I didn't want to portray Kentaro that way, so we had his skill set based on words and spelling. He is a Scrabble whiz - and also graces the cover of our book. We've gotten great feedback from the multicultural community about it, which has come as a pleasant surprise.

Tonya and Ben focused on paper airplanes for this book because they are something that any kid can make. Try their design for the super fast dart - and let me know if you have better luck sailing it than I do! Maybe my folds aren't crisp enough, but my plane keeps nosediving.

On Monday we'll be hanging out on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle - so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by author.

A little more about Multicultural Children's Book Day:  It was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump into a Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. The mission of MCBD is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids' books that celebrate diversity on home and school bookshelves, while also working to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents, and educators.

MCBD has 28 Medallion level sponsors and 47 Author sponsors. The event relies on their impressive CoHost Team for hosting the book review link-up and spreading word of this event. Drop by the Multicultural Children's Book Day website for fabulous resources including free books for teachers and a free classroom empathy kit for homeschoolers, teachers, and others.

Remember to connect with MCBD on social media with #ReadYourWorld


  1. This book looks so interesting! I need to add it to my Must Read list!

  2. This sounds fabulous! I actually just starting doing a Middle Grade Monday series myself with no idea of the Always in the Middle blog. I will definitely have to check that out! Thank you for sharing!