Itch…Alex Rider meets science geek…and the result is explosive!

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Itch : the explosive adventures of an element hunter by Simon Mayo published by Double Day/Random House 2012.

From the book’s website www.itchingham.co.uk:

Itchingham Lofte is an element hunter. He’s just an ordinary 14 year old boy, with one extraordinary mission – to collect all the elements in the periodic table. But as he soon finds out, some elements are so dangerous they can kill…

When Itch is given a strange rock by a mysterious man, it turns out to be something that no scientist has ever seen. Those who want the rock will stop at nothing, and if it gets into the wrong hands, the whole world could be in danger. Soon, Itch has to draw on everything he knows – and the contents of his rucksack – to keep himself and his family alive…

I had read about this book and thought it sounded great – a new, fresh and exciting storyline, that might appeal to the science lovers amongst my students. I wasn’t sure whether to buy it for my Primary School collection worrying that it might be more of a teen read. Yes, it is a more grown up read, but it is exactly the sort of book many of my year 6 and intermediate students are always looking for! This book for the most part is a thrilling ride and once I was into it, it became un-put-downable!

From the publisher:

Meet Itch – an accidental, accident-prone hero. Science is his weapon. Elements are his gadgets. This is a hero with Geek-Power!Itchingham Lofte – known as Itch – is fourteen, and loves science – especially chemistry. He’s also an element-hunter: he’s decided to collect all the elements in the periodic table. Which has some interesting and rather destructive results in his bedroom . . . Then, Itch makes a discovery. A new element, never seen before. At first no one believes him – but soon, someone hears about the strange new rock and wants it for himself. And Itch is in serious danger . . .

‘A great debut . . . you’ll be itching to read more.’ Anthony Horowitz

What do I think about this book?:

Coincidentally I started reading this book on the day I also read an article in the New York Times about the demise of the traditional chemistry set as an educational toy. It seems parents and toymakers are so risk averse these days that everything that is packaged in a chemistry or science exploration set needs to be safe enough to eat, and shouldn’t pose any danger whatsoever…to a child or their property. However the article also pointed out that modern science toys fit better with the educational  process of ‘Inquiry’ rather than being formulaic. “What we do is give kids the opportunity to learn through problem solving, …Of course, technology has also remade the experience of learning science. Children may be more likely to click on a science app than to go play outside.” (NY Times Dec 24 2012 see link to full article).

Itch (short for Itchingham Lofte) is a budding chemist/scientist and would certainly be a challenge for most parents. He takes a few risks in the beginning of the story that have disastrous consequences and are potentially life-threatening.  The beginning of the book may seem a little slow for some readers as Itch introduces us to his hobby of collecting all the elements in the periodic table. I found this fascinating, the science isn’t too overwhelming and it is more interesting than if our hero collected stamps, McDonalds toys or Pokemon cards! The author throughly describes Itch’s life at home with his family, his school and teachers as well as his limited social life (Itch doesn’t fit in with his peers easily). All these descriptions and the telling of Itch’s explosive experiments are essential to the reader’s understanding of why Itch so desperately wants to do the “right thing” later in the story and not only save his family but the world.

The author has obviously thoroughly researched the scientific aspects of this story – so much so that it feels a seamless blend of real science and a little science fiction. There is already news of a sequel “Itch rocks” – I hope it as good as this one! This copy available for loan in our library – early Term 1. In the mean time – visit the book website where you can read an extract from the book and download your own special poster of the periodic table.

For teachers: The National STEM Centre in the UK featured this book and promoted it during National Science & Engineering Week (9-18 March 2012).

The National STEM Centre has produced a special collection of resources on the eLibrary to support the release of the new novel. The Elements collection contains resources which can be used to support the teaching of elements and the periodic table.

You can also download an “itch” poster of the Periodic Table on the itchingham website here:

2 thoughts on “Itch…Alex Rider meets science geek…and the result is explosive!”

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