Leave it to author Paul Tobin to up the ante. His second release in The Genius Factor series, How To Outsmart A Billion Robot Bees does that and more by going ‘Empire Strikes Back’ on readers in an impossibly entertaining and intelligent book for middle school and up. How To Capture An Invisible Cat was the first book the series and it was really good. The fact that it was a good book makes the fact that this second book is so much better even more amazing.
We heard that the second Hunger Games film was like that. Lethal Weapon 2 was like that. Star Wars’ sequel, The Empire Strikes Back is the one that originated the term. When the second installment is dramatically better than the already great first one it’s said in some manner or fashion to ‘go all Empire Strikes Back on us’. How To Outsmart A Billion Robot Bees is like that.
It starts out with the timeless debate of pie vs. cake. Delphine Cooper is with a group of friends debating which is better when her genius friend Nate texts to warn her about the swarm of bees going towards her. Piffle. Piffle is what Delphine says when she’s thinking a bad word, but instead says “Piffle” to communicate her frustration. She says that more than a couple of times as she travels in a giant bubble, runs with a talking dog named Bosper, passes through solid objects (because she took a pill that allowed her molecules to become intangible) or any number of other semi-serious situations.
As you read How To Outsmart A Billion Robot Bees you want to believe that all of this is true. Paul Tobin uses lots of scientific words and theories that middle school kids will know. A pill that would allow you to shrink to the size of a bee (coincidentally….), not to mention a talking car that can fly would really be cool though wouldn’t it?
Nate Bannister is smart. He’s so smart that he places notes where Delphine will most likely be, according to percentages and likely outcome. He does this to assist her when all hope seems lost. The two are being chased by The Red Tea Death Society, a group who want one of Nate’s inventions. They’re very smart too, but evil; with just enough of a mean edge to let middle school readers know that when they catch the two real harm will come to them.
The humor and action come at readers at such a furious pace in How To Outsmart A Billion Robot Bees. Every paragraph has something that will make readers laugh, wonder about the science behind the situation or simply use their imagination as they follow along with the two. This is a book so nimble and fast that readers can’t skip ahead a paragraph. Well, you can skip ahead, but if you do you’ll miss an action point or funny moment between a mechanical pelican, our heroes, Maculte or Luria-who are two of main people in the Red Tea Death Society.
So much happens in the book it’s a wonder that it all makes sense. Credit Paul Tobin for the story’s architecture and planning 10 steps ahead of the reader. It’s a story that is utterly impossible, yet has enough real world science terms to make you want to believe that it can happen. It’s also fun. Upper elementary school reader and higher will laugh out loud and look forward to the next installment of The Genius Factor series.