Jack and the Geniuses at the Bottom of the World

bill-nyeReaders who enjoy science and mystery are in for double the pleasure in Jack and the Geniuses at the Bottom of the World by Bill Nye and Gregory Mone.  Although the book–the first in what promises to be quite a series– is clearly a work of fiction, it has qualities of nonfiction, like back matter, notes about real science, and answers to essential questions about Antarctica, which literally is the bottom of the world.

The novel features twelve-year-old Ava who builds talking toasters, motorized skateboards, and robots from spare parts; her fifteen-year-old brother Matt, an observer who thinks things through, circumvents obstacles, and forms theories from his collected data; and twelve-year-old Jack, a planner, schemer, and risk taker who is not as brilliant as his siblings but is a genius at annoying them.  In fact, the three are siblings by law, not blood.  After spending time in the foster care system, they divorce their foster parents and now live independently with Min as their social worker.

One of the terms of their autonomous childhood is to keep clear of any criminal behavior, which proves difficult when Ava’s surveillance robot Fred, a drone, is snatched by a mysterious building. In their impulsive decision to rescue Fred, the trio commits two more crimes besides spying: trespassing and breaking and entering.  In the process, they also meet Henry, Hank, Witherspoon of Henry Witherspoon Industries.  Hank is a jazz listening, Birkenstock wearing, science obsessed inventor.

Impressed by Ava’s ingenious use of discarded technology and Matt’s gift for thinking through problems, Hank offers the team a job. With too many inventions to perfect and too many devices to test, Hank needs help.  The geniuses can’t walk away from this opportunity for an alternative education, but Jack is less than impressed with his role as a glorified secretary and housekeeper when he really wants a leading role in a blockbuster, an NBA contract, or a job running a small country.  However, life gets interesting when Hank, who is also the Clutterbuck Prize judge, proposes that they travel to Antarctica—one of the most desolate, dangerous, and extreme places on earth.  Ross Island, home of McMurdo Station is also a scientific paradise.

The billionaire J.F. Clutterbuck launched an annual contest designed to address the world’s biggest problems—like pollution, hunger, and diminishing water supplies. The most recent contest challenges inventors to come up with a better way to filter the salt out of ocean water, making it safe to drink, and Antarctica is the perfect place to test those devices, since a huge shortage of drinking water exists at the bottom of the world.  Antarctica is also where Anna Donatelli, Hank’s friend, has been über focused on exploration and discovery of extreme life forms and has reported groundbreaking findings.

When the four arrive at McMurdo Station, they discover that Anna is missing. But they’ll need more than a lost lap top and a cluttered room to convince others that Anna is in trouble.  This “unusual, multicolored, mixed-up unit” (173) of four joins forces, using all the skills in their collective arsenals to survey the usual suspects—a series of odd individuals.  But the oddest of them all may prove to be Anna, a strong and brilliant woman hiding in the frozen wilderness to protect her discovery and willing to risk her life for the sake of science.

For interested teachers, activities and teaching guides accompany the book.

  • Posted by Donna

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