Ok, stop: the peaceful, rapturous expression on our girl scientist's face as she lets fly a slice of bologna in the school cafeteria would have sold me on this book even if I had not already been giggling, snorting, and cackling on almost every page prior.
I'm going to scan that page. Hold on.
Tsk. I can't fit the book on the scanner without breaking it in half, and it's a library book. I'm going to take a picture of that page. Hold on.
Look at that. That's a The-Hills-Are-Alive face. That's Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet crossing the finish line with a half-ton of wild but gifted racehorse under her butt. That face - you just know it - is going to get in soooo much trouble in about fifteen seconds, but for now, that is the face of scientific validation.
I do adore the illustrations of Nancy Carpenter. Her art emphasized the slightly madcap quality of Deborah Hopkinson's Westward ho adventure Apples to Oregon. It was the best thing about Imogene's Last Stand. She brought it down a notch for the more contemplative My Uncle Emily, and it was in that book that I noticed how well she composes a scene. My favorite, of course, is the subversive, totally funny 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore, also written by Jenny Offill.
In 11 Experiments That Failed, the creative 17 Things protagonist returns. This time she conducts her inquiries in a more structured way: instead of merely gluing her mom's slippers to the floor, she starts with a question: "Can a washing machine wash dishes?" forms a hypothesis: "A washing machine can wash anything," and then outlines her experiment, listing materials needed and procedures followed.
No experiment, of course, is complete without drawing a conclusion and communicating results, and if you're not laugh/groaning with your hand clapped over your eyes when she puts the dishes in the machine (don't forget detergent!), you will be by the time she has to run away to live in the bathroom.
Jenny Offill seems to write for magazines a lot. This is only her second picture book, anyway. And I think I see a relationship between the kind of short-form sidebar humor you'll see in magazines and the extremely funny stylistic juxtaposition of process writing and creative hijinks in this book.
There's a book about Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, the authors of Joy of Cooking. It's called Stand Facing the Stove, in reference to the highly granular instructions that have, in fact, saved so many of us from making egregious cooking mistakes over the decades. Maybe you have to have spent a bunch of years writing software manuals to find that really funny - but the number of times I realized that my instructions should have included the advice, "Angle the monitor so that you can see it while using the keyboard," makes "1. Call dog. 2. Cover with glitter. 3. Let dog go." crack me up every time.
Honestly, I think this book has a lot of places in school. It'll be a gorgeous way to introduce or explain science writing to a class learning to formulate their own experiments; in Language Arts, it would illustrate the shortcuts one is allowed to take with process writing, and you could have a fun discussion of the inferences the reader is expected to make, the reasons why her experiments failed (and if in fact they all did fail), and what she learned from her failures.
And like 17 Things, I think 11 Experiments makes a good adult gift - for those visionaries who keep trying things, keep inventing new recipes or setting up jury-rigged irrigation systems for the vegetable garden. Keep testing those boundaries, folks.
Endpaper bonus! An extra experiment appears on the front and back boards of this book: a hypothesis involving a Rube Goldberg / The Way Things Go contraption and (what else) a slice of bologna in front; and at the back of the book, the results of said experiment. Results involving a broken potted plant and a gerbil on a record player.