The STEM Night Disaster (Kate the Chemist)

Image of The STEM Night Disaster (Kate the Chemist)
Release Date: 
January 12, 2021
Philomel Books
Reviewed by: 

“The STEM Night Disaster delivers on teaching kids not just about science but also about a scientific mindset.”

Thank goodness this book has a purpose that’s clear from the beginning: It’s to inspire a love of STEM for elementary school kids. Otherwise, readers might suspect that this is just an infomercial for the YouTube videos of Dr. Kate Biberdorf’s, a.k.a. “Kate the Chemist.” Fortunately, the purpose actually carries the book. The story is loaded with STEM moments kids will enjoy, from the graphics around each page number to the many examples of science in everyday life to the introductory vocabulary at the start of each chapter.

For instance, chapter eight begins with this explanation about materials: “An exact description of what is needed for a project or experiment. It should be clear enough that someone could copy your project. Think of it like a list of the ingredients in chocolate chip cookies. You can’t leave anything out (especially not the chocolate chips!).”

Yes, there are an endless number of learning moments.

The third book in the Kate the Chemist series takes readers through the excitement of a STEM night science fair. It’s the first ever for Kate’s school, and the prizes are incredible. Kate—who loves science more than anything—is determined to win. She comes up with the perfect experiment. But as she and her best friend, Birdie, start preparing, they find that Kate's project keeps getting messed up. Kate not only needs to figure out who is sabotaging her project, but she also needs to fix her project before it’s too late.

Kate’s brilliant STEM project is a Rube Goldberg machine. The reader can get a little lost with the description here, which is a missed opportunity. An illustration would be helpful, and for the extra page it would add well worth it, especially for readers who are visual.

The science is artfully woven throughout the book, as is the scientific mindset. When Kate’s first experiment fails, her dad wisely tells her, “All great scientists learn by what doesn’t work.” And later after more sabotage and suspicion, Kate recognizes that “in science you can’t close your mind to possibilities.” And finally, in another critical lesson, Kate realizes that “you learn as much from what doesn’t work as you do from what does.”

Fortunately, the science does carry the story, and kids will have fun with it. But the story itself is no more than kids’ beach reading, especially given that the reading level hovers on third grade level. The plot is thin and predictable, especially for the upper end of the 8- to 12-year-old reading group to which it’s targeted. The saboteur is pretty obvious from early on even though there’s an attempt to throw suspicion on to other characters. Kate’s clearly the hero. She’s going to win; it just takes a bit of plodding through the pages to see exactly how she does it.

Still, kids do need beach reading. And if that beach reading entices them to be curious beyond the plot with some actual science, it’s definitely a win.