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CHILDREN’s

Itch: The Explosive Adventures of an Element Hunter by Simon Mayo; Splinter, 432 pages ($16.95). Ages 8 to 12.

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The periodic table of elements and chemistry class in general may seem a lot more interesting after reading this hugely entertaining, suspenseful debut novel from a popular British disc jockey. Fourteen-year-old Itchingham Lofte, Itch for short, has a strange obsession: He’s obsessed with the periodic table of elements and is collecting the elements one at a time. After a phosphorous explosion in his bedroom burns off his eyebrows, his mother demands he move his collection to a backyard shed but in the meantime he stores some in his backpack, where arsenic-laced wallpaper meets the steam of a greenhouse during a school field trip and makes the entire class sick. Then Itch’s element supplier gives him a very heavy rock, which may be element 126, a radioactive element that would be very valuable to governments, corporations and terrorists alike. The author crafts a marvelous portrait gallery of characters, including the horrible chemistry teacher named Flowerdew, along with a thrilling tale of heroism as Itch, battling radiation sickness, decides to take his dangerous rocks where no one will ever find them – or so he hopes. A sequel is set for publication next year.

– Jean Westmoore