Travelling Tales: Awesome Science

Al’s Awesome Science is a young fiction series written by Jane Clarke and illustrated by James Brown. The series follows science-mad twins Al and Lottie as they plan to build a time machine and test out various scientific theories to develop their design and prepare for space travel. The chapter books, ideal for children who are becoming more confident readers, combine exciting fictional stories with practical science information and fun, messy experiments that can easily be recreated at home. Busy Bodies!, the fourth title in the series, is published this month and Splash Down! (the second titles in the series) is currently one of only four middle grade titles shortlisted for the inaugural STEAM prize. Here, author Jane Clarke tells us more about how she has woven fact and fiction together, how the stories explore ideas of travel, and her personal journey while writing the books.  

The Al’s Awesome Science books are built around the over-enthusiastic and science-mad Al Boffin’s quest to create a time machine. The twins’ father died when they were younger and Al wants to build a time machine to take his mum back to a time when she was happier. In each book the intention is to entertain the reader with a humorous story as they travel with Al and Lottie on their scientific journey. The books feature facts about physics, chemistry and biology, and include notebook pages where Al writes up his experiments and observations, with handy tips for anyone recreating the tests at home (and the occasional warning to prevent the mayhem caused in the stories!). The Five Quills team has done an awesome job weaving all these elements together.

Fact and fiction are mixed up in the characters as well as the story lines, so at times writing the books felt like personal time travel. My son Andy, and the notebook he kept when he was eight years old, called ‘Andy’s Inventions’ were my inspiration for Al, along with the memories of the mess he created when he did his experiments! At that age, my son Rob was obsessed with bugs and reptiles, and animal facts – I used his interests as the basis for Lottie, who is fascinated by nature. My sons’ father died when they were young and I used that as a source of Mrs Boffin’s sadness, and as I was writing I realised how far we as a family have all travelled since then.

The stories have been a lot of fun to write, and a challenge, too – I’m fascinated by science, but have no formal training in physics, chemistry or biology, so they’ve taken me on a scientific journey as I attempted to get to grips with the often mind-boggling facts and theories, then work out how best to use and explain them in an engaging way. I roped in my scientific friends and family (Andy’s an engineer, like his dad was) to fact check – and we had some hilarious moments trying out all the experiments!

In the new book, Busy Bodies! Al and Lottie are joined by their friends, including the mathematical Mia, as they work out the possible effects of travel in space and time on the human body. There are some really fun experiments readers can try out at home. I’m also looking forward to getting out and about over the summer as part of the Summer Reading Challenge. This is the second year an Al’s Awesome Science book has been included on the recommended reading list. Last year, brave librarians and adventurous parents invited me to visit their libraries, not only to share the Egg-speriments! story but also to help children run their own eggy experiments during the session. This summer, Blast Off! library events will involve lots of real balloons, rubber bands and vinegar and baking powder, and heaps of imagination and fun. I can’t wait!

The Al’s Awesome Science series, and the science they contain, are set in the real world, so Al and Lottie only time travel (to the future as well as the past) in their imaginations. But Al remains perpetually hopeful and, like a true scientist, he will continue with his experiments – he’s never, ever going to give up!

This is a guest post for NSSM by Jane Clarke and the views expressed do not necessarily represent the FCBG. Al’s Awesome Science: Busy Bodies!, written by Jane Clarke and illustrated by James Brown, is published by Five Quills on 1st May 2019, £6.99 paperback. ©Five Quills 2019.

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