Friday, March 11, 2011

Book Review: Stink: Solar System Superhero, by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

     "You know that thing you taught me? Well, guess what? My very excellent mother DID NOT Serve Nine Pizzas."
     "What did she serve?"
     "Nothing. Zero. Zip. T.I.N.P. There. Is. No. Pizza." 

Stink Moody is incensed. He just found out that Pluto, his second-favorite planet (after Saturn), is not only NOT a planet anymore, it didn't even get to keep its name - it just has a six-digit number, instead. And Stink isn't the only one who's cheesed off about this. So is the new kid, Skunk. 

But "Rotten Riley Rottenberger," AKA "Miss Know-It-All," is rather pleased at this new development, and she takes every opportunity to rub it in their faces. The rivalry intensifies, until finally Mrs. Dempster proposes that the class create their own panel of scientists, hold a debate, and let the class vote to decide Pluto's fate. Stink and Skunk, and Riley, and their supporters, dive right in: making signs, t-shirts, chants - anything to help win votes. All to decide once and for all: Is Pluto a planet? Or not? 

For Teachers and Librarians:
Stink: Solar System Superhero is a great book to introduce to your students in March, since it connects nicely to the real-world holiday which showcases the same controversy raging in Stink's classroom: Pluto is a Planet Day, celebrated every March 13th. Besides being fun to read, this is a book you can use to supplement your curriculum in a variety of ways:
  • Science: Introduce the solar system with the book's "Mnemonic Comics" pages, which briefly showcase each planet. Then have your students research the planets further, and make their own solar system comic book with the new information they find. Pluto's status depends on the definition of planet, and dwarf planet; have your students research to find out what those definitions are, and who decided those criteria. Explore with them: what else orbits our sun besides planets (asteroids, space junk, etc.)? Then let them present the information they find via scientific panel format. Make it feel more real by having them wear white lab coats, if you can round some up!
  • Social Studies/Political Science: This book is a great springboard for a basic unit on democracy, focusing on the campaigning and voting aspects. Riley crossed out references to Pluto in textbooks; Stink put a bumper sticker on a car without the owner's permission. Discuss campaign strategies (buttons, signs, stickers, rallies, speeches, ads, etc.) and how to use them appropriately, then have kids act out ways Riley and Stink could have garnered support more responsibly. Present a lesson on how a debate works. Then let them hold their own class debate on Pluto's status, vote, and discuss the outcome.
  • Social: Stink, Skunk, and Riley formed groups of kids who felt as they did. Brainstorm ways that clubs or groups bond (songs, chants, shirts, official greetings, meetings, parties, outings, etc.). Create planet fan clubs, let your students join their favorite, and charge each club with creating three different ways to bond together, from the brainstorm list. Then let each group present their club to the class. A mini-lesson on friendship works well with this book, too: what can you do when you and a friend disagree, yet still want to remain friends?
  • Language Arts: Stink's team makes up a play about Pluto. Present a unit on plays and what goes into creating and performing one: the script and its parts, actors, crew, costumes, make-up, props, advertising, ticket sales, etc. Then create a class play about Pluto's plight, integrating what they've learned and presenting both sides of the argument. Let them present it to their peers, or to parents, or both.
For Parents, Grandparents, and Caregivers:
Stink: Solar System Superhero is a book your kids will have a blast reading. It's funny, but it's also full of interesting facts about not just Pluto, but all of the planets. It may help them figure out how to handle situations where they and their friends don't see eye to eye. It gives them a glimpse into how a lot of things work in the real world, as Stink and his classmates have a debate, present a play, and campaign for their beliefs. Mixed into the story are comic illustrations that will hold the attention of your more reluctant readers, and add to the fun for your more voracious ones. It's a perfect package of equal parts fun and education, with each part so well-blended, your kiddos will remember this book - and what they learned from it - for quite some time.

For the Kids:
Stink: Solar System Superhero finds Stink Moody very upset. When he got his planets test back from Mrs. Dempster, he found out Pluto - his second-favorite planet - isn't a planet anymore! New kid Skunk isn't happy about this either. But Riley Rottenberger thinks it's just fine, and agrees that Pluto is not a planet. She even wears a t-shirt with big fat letters saying, "PLUTO IS DEAD." When the boys and Riley and their friends get into a big argument about who's right, their teacher suggests they have a class debate to settle the matter. But who wins? Is Pluto still "Pluto?" Or just "Number 134340?"

Wrapping Up:
Stink: Solar System Superhero is a book full of fun, and planets, and lots and lots to think about. What's more perfect than a book that makes you laugh, and helps you learn something, too? 

Note: To find out more about author Megan McDonald, click here: Author Spotlight: Megan McDonald. 

To read my review of another Megan McDonald title, click here: Book Review: Stink and the Great Guinea Pig Express, by Megan McDonald.

Title: Stink: Solar System Superhero
Author: Megan McDonald
Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
Pages: 128
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Scholastic Inc, by arrangement with Candlewick Press, February 2011
Edition: Paperback, First Scholastic printing
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $4.99
ISBN: 978-0-545-29862-9

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