The Great Science Fair Disaster. by Martyn Godfrey. November 1992. Scholastic. 122 pages. ISBN: 9780590440813
The Great Science Fair Disaster is an Apple paperback published in 1992, right around my tenth birthday. I have no idea how I missed out on so many of these realistic fiction middle grade paperbacks back then, since pretty much all I read was The Baby-sitters Club, but reading them now still makes me nostalgic, even if the stories are new to me. In this book, written by the late Martyn Godfrey (also author of a book I know I used to see in the library called Mall Rats) is the story of a seventh-grader, Marcie Wilder, and her dad, who is the school principal. Every year, Mr. Wilder has an idea for a project that inevitably devolves into a disaster. This year, he wants the school to host a science fair, and even though Marcie can name many things that could go wrong, her father will have none of it. On top of that, he's also cracking down on Marcie at school and at home, and trying to hide a mysterious drug called REGET whose purpose Marcie can only guess. In addition to troubles with her dad, Marcie must also work through a sticky situation with her possessive best friend Alison, who resents her decision to work with someone else on the science project instead of her.
This book doesn't have the most suitable title, since the science fair doesn't even happen until the last quarter of the book, but the story is decent. Like a lot of Apple paperbacks, it focuses on universal experiences that all kids can understand, even if they haven't experienced them in their own lives. Every kid can imagine the trials associated with having a parent for a principal, and I think many schools do host science fairs. (Mine, incidentally, did not, and for a long time, I thought the entire concept was created by the entertainment industry and/or authors of paperback books!) The author also does a nice job of incorporating different character archetypes that often emerge in middle school, including the boy who has matured from a jerk into a worthy lab partner, and a jerk (aptly named Steve Butz) who has always been awful and shows no sign of changing. Marcie, too, represents a certain type of kid, who is generally well-behaved but has occasional lapses in judgment and outbursts of anger.
The Great Science Fair Disaster only really seems outdated to me when I compare it with the books Apple currently publishes in the Candy Apple and Poison Apple series. The contemporary titles focus on some of the same issues as this older book, but with more emphasis on fashion, dating, and friendship drama. Emotions don't run as high in The Great Science Fair Disaster, and there is a stronger feeling of platonic affection among boys and girls than in the newer books. There was also no texting or email in 1992, so these characters are, by default, less "plugged in" than their 21st century counterparts. There is no reason, though, that a child turning ten in 2012 couldn't still appreciate and enjoy this book, which is funny, light, and easy to read.
I purchased The Great Science Fair Disaster from my local used book store.