FICTION

Mad Scientist Academy: The Dinosaur Disaster

illus. by Matthew McElligott. 40p. Crown. Jul. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553523744; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780553523775.
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K-Gr 3—The seven new students at Mad Scientist Academy include a werewolf, a robot, and other odd creatures; and the school is pretty strange, too. Appealing comic book art takes readers through the kids' first day, in which they receive an unusual, but informative introduction to the world of dinosaurs. Dr. Cosmic is their brilliant, sometimes bumbling, teacher, who leads the group through a highly interactive prehistoric exhibit. The students follow clues to solve a dinosaur puzzle, learning plenty along the way. Prehistoric facts are provided through the automated handbooks that each child receives, and when the mechanical dinosaurs become activated, the kids must use research and their own attributes to avoid danger and complete the assignment. The Frankenstein-ish "Ken," for example, uses his monstrous strength to tear down a tree that successfully tempts an Iguanodon into revealing a clue. Pencil, ink, and digital illustrations carry the story through effective use of panels, word balloons, and cartoonish drawings. Characters have distinct looks and expressions, lending specific personalities to each of the students. The illustrations provide a light tone aided by occasional humorous asides from the kids. Larger panels depict a Tyrannosaurus attack and other action scenes, while the informational segments are neatly set off as handbook entries.
VERDICT Like Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen's "Magic School Bus" series (Scholastic), the use of a school setting, a quirky teacher, and wild hands-on learning situations provides an engaging blend of humor, adventure, and information.

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