1 out of 4 stars
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There are many scientists, including "Bill Nye the Science Guy" and Beakman, who have narrated children's shows, and now we have "Professor Curious" (Randall Lechner), the author of Professor Curious and His Miracle Machine: The Mystery of the Glowing Rock.
Even though the title of this book is Professor Curious and His Miracle Machine, the tale focuses mainly on his four young friends, John, Julie, Jack, and Jill, who find themselves "not in Kansas anymore" when they're accidentally sent to another era in the professor's time machine (the "Miracle Machine"). It takes the children a while to figure it out, but they have actually arrived in Jerusalem on Good Friday, the day that Yeshua - "Jesus" in Hebrew - is crucified. After witnessing the events that transpire through and including Sunday, when Yeshua rises, they realize that they still have to get home. Rather than finishing the tale, the author invites his young readers to send in essays that they've written on how to get the quartet home, with the winner becoming a character in the next book. I feel that this is a unique and inviting concept.
The story started off with the professor excitedly preparing to tape a commercial for the opening of his new center, the Professor Curious Scientific Discovery Zone. The center was to be a place where children could experiment and learn about chemical reactions. As he prepared for the advertisement, he showed himself to be the stereotypical bumbling and clumsy scientist, except he wasn't funny. In fact, I found him to be downright annoying. Once the children were introduced, I wasn't too enamored of any of them either. They were a little too one-dimensional, so I found it hard to care what happened to them once they disappeared. There was one section where Jack elaborated on his and his friends' idiosyncrasies, but it was too little too late.
Things did pick up once the children reached Jerusalem and tried to figure out where they were and what was going on. Even with all of the clues, they never deduced that the leader facing crucifixion was Yeshua. John, Julie, Jack, and Jill eventually met John, the apostle whom they started referring to as "Big John" to differentiate him from "little John," Andrew, Luke, and other followers. They also met Mary and Martha. It was Andrew and Martha who taught the children about Yeshua and some of what he had done during the previous three years. Even though I realized that Jews don't subscribe to all of the same beliefs as Christians, I had a lot of trouble believing that the children were completely clueless. I also found an error in the timeline of events and wasn't certain that the rest was correct as we know it. With that being said, I did appreciate that the author took the opportunity to add explanations to things found in the Bible, like the tearing of the veil in the temple and the resurrection of the saints after Jesus had died. The elaborations really opened my eyes.
When I first saw the title and read the plot for this book, I became quite curious. Well, you know what they say: "Curiosity killed the cat." This book was a mess from the beginning. In addition to the flat characters, the actual writing was atrocious, and as early as the Acknowledgements, it seemed like there had been no professional editing done. It was as if the author had just thrown his story together and published it. Yet, I was somehow unable to look away, much like people watching a train wreck. The book contained every grammatical error known to man, awkward sentences galore, and a myriad of inconsistencies. In addition, many of the jokes ran flat. When I saw the names "Jack" and "Jill," I suspected that there would be jokes involving the nursery rhyme, and I was correct; there were jokes about Jack falling down hills and breaking his crown ad nauseum. There were also newscasters with names like "Wen D. Day," "Wind D. Breeze, "and "Sun E. Day" which I supposed were nods to the storm that had taken place on the day of the children's disappearance. One name would have been amusing, but three were not. I also had a major problem with the way the children spoke, as it was very unrealistic. When one character said, "Guys, gaze at this," I actually threw my tablet down and contemplated reading no more. The most egregious errors were the author's tendency to change verb tenses, often two or more times in the same sentence, and his failure to stick to one point of view. One minute, the story would be written in first person, then it would suddenly switch to third person and then back. I also often wondered how Jack, the main narrator, knew what the others were doing and thinking, as if he was omnipotent. It was strange how he knew characters' names without them being introduced as well. All of these writing faux pas greatly took away from the story, and I had trouble seeing the forest for the trees.
Due to the book's assault on the English language, the lack of characterizations, and the many repeated jokes, I cannot in good conscience give Professor Curious and His Miracle Machine a rating any higher than 1 out of 4 stars. When I picked this book, the author noted that it was written to meet a sixth-grade level, but I cannot recommend that anybody read this book, let alone younger people who are still learning the nuances of writing well. I do like the gimmick of having children write in, but I daresay that if the author wants youngsters to send in essays, he needs to first set a good example.
Professor Curious and His Miracle Machine
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