SCIENCE SCHMIENCE AND HOW LUNCHBOX JONES SAVED ME FROM STEM BOREDOM by Jennifer Brown
I don’t do science. Or math. I do just enough technology to get by. And I’m not completely sure I even truly understand what engineering is. I am, and always have been, a woolgathering story gobbler. And this, to me, always meant I was decidedly non-sciencey.
To me, science was bo-ring. Reading was where the real excitement was! While my friends were studying complicated names for plants and animals, I was racing the halls of Mountain View Inn on a tiny motorcycle with Ralph S. Mouse. While they were up to their eyeballs in impossible mathematical formulas, I was perfecting the I-must-I-must formula for desired endowment with Judy Blume’s Margaret. I could vividly construct any number of fantasy worlds in my mind, but understand the superior construction of the geodesic dome? I think not. Technology, to me, was a good book light.
But I’m not just a reader and a writer; I’m also a mom. A mom who was somehow blessed with sciencey kids. Tried and true dinosaur-studying, space-gazing, engineering camp-attending robotics lovers. Over the past two decades, non-sciencey me has trekked to countless museums of natural science, to planetariums and aviation displays and robotics tournaments and invention fairs.
And somewhere in all that trekking, it began to dawn on me that maybe I do do science. In my own non-sciencey way. After all, the mythology behind astrology speaks to the story-lover in me. Programming robots to knock down buildings and throw balls and stomp over obstacles speaks to the adventurer in me. Standing under the skeletal jaws of an enormous T-Rex and imagining how terrifying those jaws must have been when filled with an angry roar speaks to the daydreamer in me. It was starting to look possible that maybe science was…not boring at all.
In my newest book, HOW LUNCHBOX JONES SAVED ME FROM ROBOTS, TRAITORS, AND MISSY THE CRUEL, Luke Abbott is forced onto a misadventurous robotics team, where he must face his nemesis, Missy Farnham, and the terrifying school enigma, Lunchbox Jones, while trying to help his middle school secure their very first win at…well, anything.
Unlike Arty Chambers, the star-loving main character in my first novel, LIFE ON MARS, Luke Abbott isn’t so into this STEM stuff. He doesn’t fancy himself someone who might be into science, or robots, at all. He just wants to chill out after school with his online gamer friend, Randy, and a whole lot of video game aliens.
Like me, Luke Abbott is non-sciencey. But also like me, over the course of his reluctant pursuit of STEM knowledge, Luke must come to terms with not only the idea that he must do this technology stuff, and the surprisingly-thrilling realization that he can do this technology stuff, but also that at some point he’s begun to…care about this technology stuff. Maybe even like it a little bit.
There’s a dreadful bit of advice given to most first-time writers that goes along the lines of “write what you know.” If I were to adhere to that advice, I fear I’d write about precious little. There are so many fascinating things out there in this world that I don’t know. So many things I don’t even know I don’t know! Instead, I prefer to “write what I want to learn about.” I prefer to “write what’s fun to get to know.” And to my delight, I’ve learned while writing these books that science can be fun, and—don’t ask me when or how this happened exactly—that I want to learn it. Adventures aren’t reserved for any one type of learner, or any one type of reader. Sometimes the best adventures happen when you open up a door to a world you never knew existed—or maybe had been ignoring existed—and stepped on through to the new and the dangerous. Through Luke Abbott, I’ve learned that anyone can be sciencey. Anyone can be mathy. Anyone can enjoy the daydreaming possibilities of technology.
What I loved most about writing HOW LUNCHBOX JONES SAVED ME FROM ROBOTS, TRAITORS, AND MISSY THE CRUEL, was that I literally learned right along with my readers. These were not concepts I came into the writing process already versed in. I had to research. I had to get boots on the ground with a robotics team, and then with robotics teams from all over the world at the world festival. I had to teach myself how to build and program a robot. I had to spend time understanding how a robotics team functions, and how they work—or don’t work—together. I had to see where non-sciencey kids could fit into a robotics club (and, you know what? They can!). I love that I had to learn right along with Luke Abbott because I know that the science and technology presented in LUNCHBOX JONES is science and technology that is understandable and relatable to non-sciencey readers just like me, and that it may just encourage a woolgathering story-gobbler to try out the robotics club at their school.
In some ways, I guess you could say that Lunchbox Jones didn’t just save Luke Abbott from robots, traitors, and Missy the Cruel, but that Lunchbox Jones saved me from STEM boredom, too.
Jennifer Brown is the author of the middle grade novel LIFE ON MARS as well as the highly-acclaimed and beloved young adult novel HATE LIST. She is also the author of the YA novels BITTER END, PERFECT ESCAPE, THOUSAND WORDS, and TORN AWAY. She lives with her family, pets, and one very accomplished Mindstorm EV3 robot in Kansas City, Missouri.