Author: Thomas, J. E.
Benjamin Banneker STEM Academy is the top middle school in Denver. Let's just say the kids are ... competitive. When Principal Yee announces the start of an epic Team Competition for the school, Frederick Douglass Zezzmer knows that trophy's got his name on it. Only problem is, it's a TEAM competition ... and Doug isn't so great working in a team environment (except with his best friend Huey, of course).
Kirkus Reviews (04/01/23)
School Library Journal (10/20/23)
Booklist (+) (12/01/23)
The Hornbook (00/07/23)
Full Text Reviews:
School Library Journal - 10/20/2023 Gr 3–7—Black seventh grader Frederick Douglass Zezzmer (Doug) is an aspiring inventor and one of the most competitive students at Benjamin Banneker, a top STEM magnet school in Colorado. When Principal Yee announces a competition that forces students to not only compete in STEM subjects, but also in arts and sports, Doug is determined to win. However, he finds himself on a misfit team made up of his best friend Huey, a would-be magician afraid of taking center stage; Liam, a good-natured klutz from a family of athletes; the intense and universally feared Padgett; and Travis, aka "The Shark," a diminutive future astronaut. On top of this, his biological father keeps ignoring Doug's scientific ambitions, determined to turn him into an athlete like he was. Thomas uses wacky humor to deliver a light but laudable message about teamwork and friendship being more important than placing first. This collaborative ethos is reinforced by the structure of the book, which features distinct chapters from multiple characters' perspectives (Padgett's chapters are written as emails to her grandmother, while Travis's are presented in verse). The characters are racially diverse and students who sign, use wheelchairs, and have service animals are mentioned. Characters also come from a broad range of family structures: Doug is from a blended family and has a stepbrother he initially detests; Huey has six parents thanks to multiple remarriages; Travis's mother is dead; and Padgett lives with her grandmother in a motel. VERDICT Notable for its overt focus on STEM and its promotion of female and Black scientists, this will be of most interest to libraries seeking humorous novels about school and family life that feature diverse protagonists.—Leonie Jordan - Copyright 2023 Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and/or School Library Journal used with permission.
Booklist - 02/15/2023 *Starred Review* An experimental series of team-building exercises takes many of the hyper-motivated students at a Denver middle school for the gifted out of their comfort zones in this warm and funny debut. As a quintet of misfits, ranging from nine-year-old brainiac Travis Elizabeth “Shark” Cod to Frederick Douglass Zezzmer—destined, in his own mind anyway, to become the world’s greatest inventor—make their way past six STEAMS-based challenges (the second S is for sports) that ruthlessly eliminate teams that can’t get the hang of working together. Thomas strews the increasingly suspenseful competition with teachable moments and traces learning curves not only for the students but for teachers and parents, too. The cast, premise, and lightly delivered life lessons are reminiscent of E. L. Konigsburg’s The View from Saturday, and however reluctant readers may be to accept the author’s proposition that winning isn’t always the same as coming in first, they’ll be swept up by the drama and the brisk dialogue, not to mention a school where hot-lunch choices are based on answering quiz questions and the principal snatches student-made spy drones out of the air and pockets them without breaking stride. - Copyright 2023 Booklist.