“Two middle-grade kids take a shortcut home from school and discover what looks like fuzzy mud but is actually a substance with the potential to wreak havoc on the entire world.”
This was the winner of Georgia’s Book Award last year (which means Louis Sachar will be here in GA in the spring to accept his award and give a talk!) and it’s on this year’s Reader’s Rally challenge for my district. And my wife, a fifth grade teacher, says it’s her new favorite read-aloud.
In less than 200 pages you get a fun and exciting story that covers many questions which will lead to great discussions. Bullying, clean energy, population growth, and when it’s okay to tell someone that rash might be something worse than it looks.
The two kids who take the shortcut home are trying to avoid a bully. When he shows up in the wrong place and time (in the woods where a defensive and protective girl just discovered this patch of weird fuzzy mud) he gets it thrown in his face. Of course.
It turns out to be the mutated offspring of a nearby secret lab’s biofuel and it doesn’t play well with others. And it spreads quickly. That’s another awesome thing to discuss with this book! The math is fun to think about.
I don’t know who came up with the design of this book, but they are a genius. At the top corner of ever chapter break is part of a circle with a dot in it. In chapter one it’s one dot. In chapter two it’s two dots. In chapter three it’s…four dots. Then eight, sixteen, and so on until by the end the dots are splashed across the page and you have a nice and chilling visual representation of how fast this nasty stuff can grow out of it’s petri dish and out into the unsuspecting world.
It’s definitely a fast paced issue book that will leave plenty of food for thought. It’s not character or setting driven. The characters and setting are only as interesting as they need to be to advance the plot and story. The bully is bad. The fifth grade girl is good. The seventh grade boy is confused and conflicted. And that’s about it. But it’s all you need for the unrealistic and realistic to converge in the woods…and in the constantly-growing fuzzy mud.