Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo

Smith, Greg Leitich. 2003. NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0316778540 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-8]


Elias Brandenburg is the go-between, juggling his feelings in Honoria and Honoria’s romantic interest in Shohei. Shohei’s Irish American adoptive parents feel he should embrace his Asian heritage. Honoria is bombarded with anonymous romantic e-mails that she thinks are from either Shohei or class counsel rival Goliath Reed, never suspecting her true paramour is Elias. The trio is also saddled with the burden of creating memorable science fair projects. Such distractions are par for the course while attending “That Which Is The Peshtigo School.” Honoria takes the science fair seriously (will piranhas eat bananas?), but her compatriots are less enthusiastic. Elias rummages through the family files and finds an experiment conducted by his older brother years earlier. In a poorly veiled attempt to continue his brother’s work with the effects of classical music on the growth of plants, Elias recruits Shohei, himself looking for the easiest experiment possible. As his work progresses, Elias discovers music may not be the key to healthy plants. However, he has no evidence to back up this theory because Shohei’s younger brother Tim, (proclaiming himself an Irish ninja), killed the plants. Shohei faked his results by studying video of the plants. Facing Galileo’s dilemma of “recant and apologize,” Elias must declare that his own experiment is wrong or receive a two-week suspension for changing the music playing for the plants.

Peshtigo is peopled with students from privileged families who emphasize academics, so the threesome’s accomplishments and intellects are not unique. Steering clear of dramatic teen angst and dysfunction, the story does not mire the kids in stereotypical problems such as drugs or teen pregnancy. The story revolves around the friendship they have and how the trio connects with the others. They are humorous, intelligent, authentic, with convincing and genuine emotions. These three are not prep school snobs as their attendance at Peshtigo might imply, rather they are friends facing these challenges with wit, hilarity, and warmth.


Encourage readers to listen to some of the classical compositions mentioned, as well as explore the lives of classical composers. Starting with the information in the Author’s note, encourage readers to learn more about Galileo’s contributions and the challenges he faced.


Other stories about friendships:
Koningsburg, E.L. THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY. ISBN 068980993X
Tolan, Stephanie S. SURVIVING THE APPLEWHITES. ISBN 0066236029

By Lea Ann Gilbert

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