Review by Elizabeth Leung
Tundra, Penguin Random House, 10 September 2019
40 pages, hardcover, $21.99 CAD, 978-0-73526-425-0
Ages 3-7, Grades Pre K-2
Ashley Spires, bestselling author of The Most Magnificent Thing, brings magic (or, should I say, the scientific method) to the page once again in Fairy Science. Budding fairy scientist Esther is a brown-skinned fairy who tries to solve the problem of why a tree in the forest has stopped growing. While the other Pixieville fairies try moonlight dancing and other magical cures with no success, Esther and her bird, Albert, ask questions, research, hypothesize, and experiment to nurse the tree back to life.
The forty-page book is as much about the environment as it is about science. It particularly emphasizes the importance of science education, especially in terms of climate change. With nature always in the background, Spires leaves visual Easter eggs for her readers, from recognizable science experiments in Esther’s laboratory, to curious fairies who watch her work—like the one who always picks his nose in class. Spires’ signature matter-of-fact humour works its way into the narrative through Esther’s observations, like how she’s pretty sure that fairy dust is just dandruff. Like her Binky the Space Cat series, the pages are often split into pseudo-panels with multiple sequential images on each spread. Spires’ mix of narration and speech balloons also evoke a comic-like form of storytelling that meshes well with the theme of communicating—whether it be proving or teaching—science.
After the story, Esther provides the reader with an experiment suitable for trying either in a classroom or at home, making the picture book not only a great story, but a fantastic means of introducing the scientific method to young and budding scientists.
Elizabeth Leung is a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature Program at UBC. In addition to editing Young Adulting, she is a teaching assistant for introduction to writing comics and is currently writing a middle grade space opera about sentient AI and teenagers with dyslexia. Follow her on twitter @ezlabeth.