Stories from the Science Whiz Kids

A fourteen year-old nuclear physicist. A seventeen year-old horse whisperer. A young Navajo in need of a warmer home. A teenage fashionista interested in bees and pollination. What do they all have in common? Curiosity, follow-through, and science fairs.

Science Fair Season by Judy Dutton was recommended to me by BF Fermata. She and I love a good kids-doing-amazing-things story. This is most likely because she is an educator and I like to think I am a future educator. This book does not disappoint at all.

Dutton gets interested in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2009 held in Reno, Nevada. There, she follows six kids’ stories, as well as follows up on some recent science fair legends. Some of the kids are totally who you would think attend competitive science fairs. They are focused, have mentorship, and are completely enamored with the science they study, such as the kid nuclear physicist and the robot engineer. The surprising stories come from the kids who come from unlikely situations to do very well at these science fairs, like the Navajo boy who built a solar generator from old car parts and aluminum cans or the boys from a juvenile detention facility who explored the likelihood and locations of living forms on Mars.

The author does a nice job of balancing science for the lay man (or woman) and the stories of these kids. It’s an easy read that can warm your heart and make you feel like a serious under-achiever. But these kids’ stories are great, and I am so glad that this book proves that despite what the numbers say about America’s progress in science and mathematics, there are kids rising above that, and succeeding. My only criticism of the book is that Dutton gets a little repetitive. I feel like I read some variation of the same sentence three times towards the end. But it didn’t hinder the stories and the spotlight on the kids at all.

If you like the sound of this book, there are a couple of documentaries that I highly suggest you put on your Netflix queue: Spellbound, about the National Spelling Bee; and Whiz Kids, about the Intel Science Talent Search competition. I love Spellbound. It was fascinating. And Whiz Kids is directly related to this book.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Just a small, related, brag-worthy fact: I won fourth place in The National Geographic Geography Bee held at my school when I was in the fourth grade. I was the only girl to make it that far in the bee, and I was one of the younger contestants. I also feel that the question that threw me out was a little ridiculous, and so I harbor some over-achiever kid resentment towards that competition.

*Editor’s note: I have been Freshly Pressed for a second time! This makes me feel very proud, especially because this is my 100th post. Thanks for reading, and I hope I can get to all your comments, but if I don’t, know that I completely appreciate your readership and hope you hang around. Thanks again!


46 responses

  1. Hey now: I live in Reno, yet I’ve never even heard of this book — what’s up with that???

    Sounds intriguing — I’ll have to visit my favorite Reno bookstore, Sundance, and try to pick up a copy. Thanks for the review!


    • The Intel ISEF is held in a different location every year. 2009 happened to be Reno, but it’s so cool what happens in our backyards sometimes without us even knowing. Thanks for reading!

  2. I feel your pain. One year in my school’s spelling bee and it was down to be and one other kid. My teacher didn’t have any words that could stump us, so to liven it up she said we could choose each other’s words. I chose a very legitimate word, and do you know what he gave to me to spell? Czechoslovakia. Despite my complaints that proper nouns shouldn’t be allowed and I wasn’t even sure that word was English, my teacher allowed it, and I lost. I’m still bitter (if you can’t tell).

    • Haha, I can relate. We were given a black and white xeroxed map of the United States with the states filled in based on per capita earnings. I was asked which state had the highest earnings per capita, and most of the North East was blacked out! I just chose one that I thought was wealthy, New Hampshire, I think. The answer was Connecticut. I was totally jipped! But I’m slowly getting over it. Thanks for reading!

      • Isn’t it funny how a loss such as that at those young ages sticks with us for life. Like a little splinter that we can’t get out, it callouses over. Normally we forget all about it until we hit it just the right way. Congrats on the FP (again) and thanks for the great reading tips!

  3. You know this means there
    can be real life Stewies out
    there, lets just hope they use
    there powers for good.

    Check out the Artwork for my
    children’s book – it’s aboult a
    whiz kid who lives in the deep
    dark sea, and builds an extra
    marine to explore the surface.

  4. I’m going to get this book. I always like these types of books that are inventions and stuff. I have a couple of books about the invention of the computer:

    and one book about Philo Farnsworth and the invention of the television.


  5. As a teacher I definitely appreciate the heads up on this one. I especially enjoy stories of the quirky, non traditional gifted kids doing amazing things–like the Navajo boy…

    It’s on my list.

  6. Ha! I got second place in the Geography Bee in 4th grade, and I harbor the same silly resentment for the competition as well! I will never forget the question about the Tiber river that I missed too…..I still think it was poorly written.

    Great post, looking forward to reading the book!

  7. I enjoyed your perspective and this looks like a good book for my daughter, a young curious mind who loves science and math and reading. I also like the positive story about children, there is too little of that in the world today.

  8. Loved this post. I will share it with my Science teacher daughter. I remember all those projects she and I started together when she was young. We always started on MLK day since it was a holiday and she was ready by March for the fair. Her projects included dying cloth with vegetable dyes, setting 100 balloons free with her address and phone number and a request to respond. Great times.

    • I only really noticed it at the end of the book. But I wouldn’t totally disregard the book because of that. The stories were well worth the read, and I mostly read the book in one day so everything was fresh in my memory. I hope you like it. Thanks for reading!

  9. Pingback: Post Turkey Update! | Keeping It SO Simple!

  10. Pingback: Year in Review | Bound By Books

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