Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo

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Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set at a rigorous private school in Chicago, Smith's sparkling debut offers three seventh-grade narrators, each of them precocious, intelligent and wickedly funny: jazz-loving Honoria, who keeps two meat-eating piranhas and serves as the public defender in the school's student court; Johann Elias (his siblings all bear the names of Bach's relatives), the only one in the family who doesn't adore science; and Shohei, an adopted Japanese boy whose hilariously earnest parents are trying to shove his "heritage" down his throat ("Your ancestors are speaking to you," his Irish-American mother says tearfully. "We're going to help you hear"). As the story opens, the three best friends face two dilemmas. First, Elias has a crush on Honoria, who has a crush on Shohei, who wants to help Elias win Honoria. They also grapple with science-fair projects: Honoria tries to train her piranhas to prefer bananas, while Elias and Shohei each try to confirm an earlier finding by one of Elias's genius older brothers, that classical music helps plants grow. But Elias's experiment puts his brother's work in question, and the crusty science teacher assumes that Elias's study must be faulty. This conflict leads to a showdown in which Elias faces suspension unless he recants his findings, a predicament he compares to Galileo's fate. Can Honoria, acting as Elias's "attorney," come up with another solution? Readers will identify with these smart characters and enjoy the vicarious attendance at their idiosyncratic school. Ages 10-13. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
This is a witty book, peopled by smart 7th graders at a special school in the Chicago area (a school like the one the author himself attended as a teenager). There are three main characters: Elias, Shohei, and Honoria. Elias is the youngest child of a family that includes classical musicians and scientists. His best friend Shohei is Japanese, adopted into a Caucasian family, and Shohei's mother is obsessed with having him experience Japanese culture, with Japanese food in his lunches, enforced special lessons, and so forth. Honoria is a seriously interested scientist, unlike her friends Elias and Shohei, and she also is quite interested in the anonymous e-mails she is getting from an admirer. The plot revolves around a hilarious science fair. Elias tries to duplicate the results of his older brother's science fair project, playing different kinds of music to plants to see how the plants respond. He ropes Shohei into collaboration and the results are hysterically funny. Honoria, meanwhile, has a project in which she attempts to get piranhas, which will eat anything, to prefer bananas. And so it goes. We don't get these books too often, about gifted kids, for gifted kids. And a lighthearted story that is good for a laugh is more than welcome. KLIATT Codes: J-Recommended for junior high school students. 2003, Little, Brown, 179p., Ages 12 to 15.
— Claire Rosser
Children's Literature
Longtime friends Elias, Shohei, and Honoria are smart seventh graders at the prestigious, exclusive Peshtigo School. At his father's insistence, Eli reluctantly enters the school's Science Fair; Shohei is resisting his adoptive parents' efforts to put him in touch with his heritage; and Honoria is dealing with a crush on one of her two best friends. Eli's decision to replicate an older brother's successful science fair entry (does music help plants grow?) leads to a complicated and sometimes funny chain of events, culminating in his defiance of the science teacher. Shohei begs to be part of Eli's' project (it's easier than doing his own), while Honoria, a serious scientist, struggles with her project involving her pet piranhas. Each must eventually do some self-scrutiny as they deal with family, friendship, and school. The alternating first-person narratives make it hard to keep track of whom is speaking, but having the different perspectives make the story more personal and allow development of each of the three characters. Clever and witty writing move this middle school novel along, while subtly driving home that brainy kids also struggle with relationships and right and wrong. 2003, Little Brown and Company, Ages 10 to 13.
—Peg Glisson
School Library Journal
Gr 6-8-Friends since grade school, Elias, Shohei, and Honoria are smack in the middle of a rather sticky phase of their lives. Elias is entering his exclusive private school's science fair with about as much enthusiasm as a prisoner walking the plank over shark-infested waters. Shohei is the Japanese-born adopted son of parents who are force-feeding him bits and pieces of his native culture and slacker partner in Elias's science-fair project. Honoria is a serious participant in the fair and has undertaken the extraordinary task of trying to teach a pair of piranhas to prefer bananas over meat. She is also trying to figure out how to tell Shohei that she likes him as more than just a friend. Each of these characters must navigate through personal minefields made up of family and emotional time bombs in order to survive "That Which Is" life. Smith uses a diary format for the chapters, each of which reveals part of the story from a different character's perspective. A fresh, unusual story of friendship and honesty, riddled with wit, intelligence, and more than a few chuckles.-Donna M. Knott, The Lovett School, Atlanta Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781623520298
  • Publisher: IntoPrint Publishing, LLC
  • Publication date: 6/15/2013
  • Pages: 158
  • Sales rank: 308,743
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Greg Leitich Smith grew up in Chicago and graduated from a science magnet high school. He went on to complete degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Texas at Austin, and a University of Michigan degree in law.

Greg drew on his own Japanese-German American and adopted background in crafting Elias's and Shohei's families. He now lives with his wife, children's author Cynthia Leitich Smith, and their four cats in Austin, Texas.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2008


    I thought this was just fine, but not great. The three main characters were interesting, but the book didn't suck me in. Maybe I was looking for something just a little bit edgier. There's no doubt that Smith can write...perhaps fifth and sixth graders would like it much more than eighth grade and above.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2003

    Educators, buy this book! Students, you will like it!

    This book can be used effectively in language arts, science, math, social studies, music, photography, acting. The author presents the intellectuality of his characters from three convincing point-of-view. THE NINJAS, PIRANHAS AND GALILEO has love, intrigue, and humor. The Author's Note, however, shouldn't be read by the students until they try the plant experiment and have a court hearing.

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