Book Review: The Secret Science Society’s Spectacular Experiment, by Kathy Hoopmann and Josie Montano

The Secret Science Society’s Spectacular Experiment, Kathy Hoopmann and Josie Montano, Wombat Books, August 2019.

From the publisher:

Mona likes to moan.

Kiki is a worry-wart.

Bart loves following rules.

And Zane HATES following rules.

When the four of them are put into The Secret Science Society together, this could only mean one thing: DISASTER!

Will they be able to work together to create an experiment that Mona won’t moan about, Kiki knows is safe, Bart will think is perfect and that is really, REALLY exciting for Zane?

But ssssssshhhhhhh, the ending is a secret.

I hated science at school.

Not as much as maths, admittedly, but still quite ferociously. It was deathly dull – so many little codes to remember, so many numbers, so many multiple-choice tests and words that seemed to bear no resemblance to any human language.

I was also awful at it. Awful. While I received straight As in every other subject (aside from maths, but I could still, mostly, scrape a B at that, if my friends helped me out), science tests always felt like a kind of Russian Roulette – would this be the one I’d get an F on and ruin my entire academic career and, therefore, whole life?

I dropped the subject the moment I came to college and could choose. Science was boring and I was terrible at it and I would never need to use it in the real world, where I was going to be an author and/or Tony-award-winning-star-of-the-stage.

My daughter is seven now. She is obsessed with science. She is fascinated by space and dinosaurs and the human body and does chemistry experiments at home for fun.

And I …

Am deeply envious.

Because, when I was at school, science wasn’t fun.

Now, it’s the most fun subject at school. And I am riding on the coat-tails of her obsession. I am learning while she learns and I am seeing a whole Sliding Doors trajectory of my life. One where I had engaged science teachers at school. One where we were allowed to have fun. One where there were no multiple-choice tests and we could make slime!

Science week was last week and I watched my daughter buzzing with excitement to go to school and do fun science activities. I took her to science activities after school and watched her walking around the room, wearing virtual reality goggles, learning about space by being inside it.

I watched as she spent a weekend making a poster about Mars for fun.

And I felt all my preconceived notions about science as a subject melting away.

Science is fun. And important. And exciting. I am so glad that this new generation is being taught this.

The Secret Science Society’s Spectacular Experiment, by Kathy Hoopmann and Josie Montano, was released during science week, and the fun of science is at its core. It centres on four unlikely friends – Zane, Bart, Kiki and Mona – who are brought together to work on their school’s science expo. Each of the children is marked out as “different” at the school.

Zane has ADHD, Bart is on the autism spectrum, Kiki has anxiety, and Mona is struggling to control her negative emotions – as a result she is very unpopular at school. The story deals with the difference in experience presented by all the characters in a sensitive, nuanced way that I – as a sufferer of anxiety now and in childhood – found both honest and extremely well-handled. Both the book’s authors have lived experience of working with neuro-diversity, and it really shows in the writing.

This book will, hopefully, be helpful to young readers experiencing their own difference – and encourage more “typical” young people to have empathy for those in their lives who may present differently from the way they do. But the difference in these characters – while important to their personalities – never overshadows the story. Which is, at its core, a story about friendship, persistence, overcoming obstacles, creative thinking and – of course – science.

I can imagine many budding young inventors and investigators being inspired to create their own experiments and inquiries, after reading about the plucky group at the heart of The Secret Science Society. And those kids who – like I did – believe that science is not for them will be, hopefully, drawn in by the gorgeous illustrations and fun, adventure and tension-filled tale, and might start to have their minds changed.

I wish it hadn’t taken thirty-something years for me to realise that science can be thrilling and exciting. I wish books like this one had been around when I was a kid. I’m glad my daughter is growing up in a world where science is cool and is seen as a worthy pursuit for all children, not just “science nerds” or the extremely clever.

And you know what? Maybe it’s not too late. This morning, my daughter got up with an idea for an “automatic book sorting machine”. Maybe we can combine both our passions – books and science – and create something amazing. Just like the kids in this book.

Watch this space.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Secret Science Society’s Spectacular Experiment, by Kathy Hoopmann and Josie Montano

  1. Norah says:

    What a fabulous review, Kate. I agree with you that this book is spectacular and has so much with which children will be able to connect. I’m sorry that you were turned of science and maths in your school days, but so excited that you are finding the joy at last. I think your daughter’s idea for a book sorting machine will be very popular. Better get onto it quickly before someone else does!

  2. Veronica The Burgeoning Bookshelf says:

    I wasn’t much good at Science at school but I feel like there is a lot more fun in the teaching now. Books like this encourage children to take an interest in Science and also encourage empathy and inclusion.

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