Emily Sanders is a typical seventh grader – reluctant to see the summer end, she is dealing with BFF drama with her friend Leanne as she heads back to school in her small Virginia town and discovers that, well, Something Stinks!. When she stops by to see her Uncle Joe and Aunt Sylvie, Emily gets a whiff of something nasty. Her uncle tells her that now and then scores of dead fish clog the river near his apple orchard. He can’t figure out why and the local authorities haven’t taken much interest in helping him. Once school starts Emily joins her school newspaper and begins looking for stories beyond the middle school world of football and bad cafeteria food. The adventure begins as she explores the science of the river and the businesses that line its banks.
“I’ve never thought of myself as a scientist, but I could think of this story and approach it like I was trying to solve a problem. I thought if kids saw the story unfold this way, sort of like a mystery, they may not be as wary of science,” Hedrick observes. ”The process of collaborating with Tumblehome enabled me to know that the science part of the story was rock solid and really drove home the fact that science is possible for anybody.”
A native Michigander, Hedrick lived in the Carolinas and Virginia before settling in Florida. Teaching physical education, raising her own kids, and years of volunteering in schools gave Hedrick a feel for the vernacular and attitudes of middle schoolers. Those experiences also led her to empathize with the unique perspective of that age group, so when she discovered that Tumblehome was looking for stories for middle grade students, she was ready. Tumblehome’s other scientific adventures appealed to Hedrick and inspired her to submit her work. “I liked the neat combination of the kids solving mysteries from a scientific point of view.” She also understood that the interaction among kids and adults had to be both realistic and empowering to readers. She knew she didn’t want “the adults fixing it for the kids.” She added, “if you can teach 6th and 7th graders, you can teach anybody.” Just to be sure, she asked a 14-year-old to read the manuscript to be certain the dialogue sounded authentic.
How did she come up with the story line? Even though by the time she began to write Something Stinks Hedrick was no longer living in Virginia, news stories she read made her curious “why there did not seem to be more of an uproar when there were thousands of fish dying in waterways all over the state. There were probably many different causes, but still it seemed no one was overly alarmed and wanted to get to the bottom of it.” Her years in the Carolinas allowed her to weave the issues of economic factors into the plot as well. (Read the book to learn more.)
Hedrick credits Tumblehome co-founder Penny Noyce and editor Carrie Rogers with seeing the potential in her story, collaborating with her to be sure details were correct, and making key suggestions for weaving the science concepts into the plot. “I came up with the possibilities and Tumblehome advised me.” The basics of the story were there, but it needed the science to work and be a more important part of the problem-solving process. “I knew that there were things in the mystery that the kids would have to prove but I wasn’t always exactly sure which tests would be needed. The nugget of everything the kids would do was there. I knew they had to test the water,” and Penny Noyce gave her direction on the necessary scientific details. Together they made sure other factors that might have caused the kills were covered, too.
Hedrick also was glad to put a girl at the center of her story, and to be able to portray her as smart and strong-willed even while she navigates the minefield of adolescent friendships. There’s gossip, intrigue, a new boy in school, dealings with the press and police, and it all makes for a story that can keep adults and adolescents turning pages until the mystery is solved.
Something Stinks! is available exclusively through Tumblehome Learning, specially priced at $6.95 for a limited time only. If you pick it up you won’t be able to put it down!