Al’s Awesome Science! | An Author Q&A with Jane Clarke

Al’s Awesome Science, a new fun-filled science series by award winning children’s book author Jane Clarke hits the shelves today. Eggsperiments!, the first book in the series, follows the messy adventures of science loving twins Al and Lottie. Jane Clarke shares the memories that inspired her and the science behind the books.   

Where did the idea for Al’s Awesome Science series of books come from?

I was asked to contribute ideas for a series of stories that involved science. I had plenty. My oldest son was fascinated by science from an early age and we did lots of messy experiments in our house. From the age of seven or eight, he kept a notebook called Andrew’s Inventions. He’s grown up to be an aeronautical engineer!

What research did you need to do to write the series?

The Al books can be read on different levels – they work as fun stories, with lots of mess and upsetting the neighbours, but they have serious science in them. I’m excited by science, but didn’t learn much at school, and attempting to understand the physics and explaining it at this level is a challenge I really enjoy. I do lots of research online, run it past my scientific friends (and friends of friends, including a physics professor) and members of my family to make sure I’ve got it right.

Al says, “mangled molecules” a lot, it’s his catch phrase! How did you develop his personality?

I started with my son age eight, and exaggerated! Al is special because he is bursting with enthusiasm for science and ready to try anything, he never gives up even when it all goes wrong. “Mangled molecules” seemed to sum it all up.

You encourage readers to conduct their own experiments at home inspired by Al. Do you hope that Al’s Awesome Science series shows that science is fun?

Absolutely. Science was always fun in our house – and often very, very messy. My son once covered a table with cooking oil for an experiment to see if it would make toy cars run any faster. I’m hoping to get that one in to book three!

There are funny moments dotted throughout Egg-speriments! like Einstein the dog getting a walking stick stuck in the doorframe. Do you think it is important to use humour in your writing?

Einstein, the not-too-clever dog with the name of a genius, is a compilation of all the daft dogs I’ve known and loved. I like reading – and writing – books that have laugh-out-loud moments; they help to bring the characters to life.

Illustrating Al's Awesome Science Illustator James Brown

Al and Lottie, copyright Five Quills 2017

Al’s twin sister Lottie loves creepy crawlies and hopes to be a wildlife presenter on TV one day. Do you hope to inspire some new young scientists?

I think it would be wonderful if the books inspired even one new young scientist! Lottie is as close to my heart as Al. I have four granddaughters and it’s important to me that girls will like the stories too. I wanted a strong female character even though Lottie is actually inspired by my younger son who kept things like stick insects and crickets, and whose first job was as a wildlife adventure tour guide.

Did you consider writing Al and Lottie as brother and sister, not twins?

My nephew and niece are boy-girl twins, so that immediately felt natural. I wanted Al and Lottie to be equals and that is harder if there’s an age difference.

Al’s experiments are summarised in his notebook throughout the story. Does this repetition improve learning and reinforce ideas?

It does, but that wasn’t the reason for the notebook – it reflects the fact that good scientists write up their experiments, and the step by step instructions makes it easier for the reader to repeat them at home – so watch out, grown-ups!

Al and Lottie’s dad died three years ago, and Al wants to help his mum to be happier. How do you think children will respond to this part of the story line?

I’ll be interested to see how the readers respond. I don’t think it will upset anyone as the twins are getting on with their lives and dealing with it very matter-of-factly. It’s there to give Al an important reason for his time machine experiments. I don’t dwell on it, but I think it gives the stories more depth. Years ago, when our sons were teenagers, my husband died suddenly. We wished then that we could turn back time.

What can we expect from the rest of the Al’s Awesome Science series?

Each of the books in the series will stand alone, but I can promise more experiments, mess and chaos in every story. I can’t wait to write them!

Edited by Janey Robinson