Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove: A Mystery with a Blinking, Beeping, Voice-Recording Gadget Glove You Can Build Yourself, by Bob Pflugfelder and Steven Hockensmith, illustrated by Steve Garrett; Quirk Books, $12.95, 272 pages, ages 9 to 12. (Publication: October 7, 2014)
During a phone conversation late this spring, ‘Science Bob’ Pflugfelder enthusiasticly explained that his books for middle-grade students are driven by his own desire to question, tinker and build. The co-author of the much-loved Nick and Tesla series, Science Bob also conducts experiments on television programs like Jimmy Kimmel Live and Live! with Kelly and Michael, and teaches elementary school science in a Boston suburb. “Originally Nick and Tesla was meant to be a trilogy,” he remarked. “Our readership has grown with each book, and teachers and librarians are excited about them too.” This is most likely due to the series’s unique narrative structure, which are written as part novel, part do-it-yourself manuals. “As far as we can tell, there’s never been a novel that combines a ‘how-to’ with a storyline,” Science Bob said, “we couldn’t find it anywhere else.” The latest, Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove, marks the fourth book to be released, and a fifth is in the works.
The layout in Gadget Glove is a slight departure from the other three. In previous books, several do-it-yourself creations are interspersed throughout the narrative. That happens in Gadget Glove as well, but now, each project becomes one part of a larger contraption: the cyborg glove of the book’s title. “The projects are more complex this time,” Science Bob said, “I hope kids will be eager to make their own versions of the cyborg glove.” Once fully constructed, the cyborg glove has four functions: a LED signal light, an ultra-loud emergency alarm, a handy sound recorder, and an UV secret message revealer.
The creative process is divided between Science Bob, co-author Steven Hockensmith, illustrator Scott Garrett, and a team at Quirk Books. That may sound like many chefs stirring the pot, but all parties work well together. “Usually, we agree on the general plot and outline some of the DIY projects. Then Steve and I go in our own directions. We have done four books together and now on Book Five, and neither Steve nor I have ever met each other!”
The twins’ names Nick and Tesla are an homage to electrical engineer and futurist Nikola Tesla, known for his high-voltage experiments which led to, among other things, inventing the Tesla coil, which was used by radio stations and telegraph companies. Mr. Tesla’s historical importance and scientific contributions are explored in depth in Gadget Glove. “Tesla has been in the media in recent years. Now we even have Tesla vehicles, so I think it will be interesting for kids to read the Nick and Tesla series and discover that there was a scientist named Nikola Tesla.”
Throughout the series, Nick and Tesla are generally more competent and resourceful than their adult counterparts. Sometimes, the adults are even the villains. “I think it’s nice to present things from a kid’s viewpoint; they see things that adults don’t,” said Science Bob. “In our books, that kids are able to put things together in different ways because they have a different viewpoint and a different motivation and a bit of imagination.”
Science Bob is also devoted to his role as an elementary school science teacher. He is quick to emphasize how curious, inventive, and imaginative children can be when given the chance. “Ultimately, I think the kids who turn cardboard boxes into robots using Christmas lights and fishing line are the children who go on to build Mars Rovers, solve energy problems, and feed the world.” The Nick and Tesla books tap into that creative and inventive spirit.
Being a member of the burgeoning ‘maker’ movement most inspires Science Bob’s writing and his teaching. While anyone could dabble in an activity to qualify as a maker, there is a strong current of participation within the fields of science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics. The maker movement encourages passive thinkers to become active innovators through creative expression, self-reliance, and yes, even tinkering. “I think, first and foremost, I like making things in the shop,” Science Bob said. “I am fascinated by movie props; I collect movie props and build movie props. That’s where my passion lies. I think the maker movement is something you’re hearing about a lot now. Look at 3D printers, for example. As they become more available, people are starting to understand what you can do with them. Programmable microchips are now in stores too. So I think the maker movement especially among kids is going to keep growing.”
Nick and Tesla have become more than characters that encourage middle-graders to be avid readers, but that being makers opens doors onto all sorts of worldly possibilities. Science Bob could not be more delighted with the reception. “It’s great that people are embracing the Nick and Tesla series, but also how the maker world has adopted it. Parents in particular want their kids to build things, and use these books as a template. For me, it is so rewarding that kids are putting down the iPad, looking away from the screen, and are actually building stuff.”
Nicole Basbanes Claire is the head children’s librarian at the Upton Town Library in Massachusetts, where she helps young readers discover the wonder of books. Prior to that, she was a teen librarian at Gleason Public Library in Carlisle, MA. Claire received her AB in English and Creative Writing from Sweet Briar College and her MSLIS from the Palmer School of Library and Information Science. She now lives and kayaks with her husband, Billy, at their lake house in Central Massachusetts.