When I was 10 years old, a field trip was the quickest way to get me excited about a school subject. It was a moment of freedom from the boredom of the classroom that all of my friends–and probably the teacher as well–relished. Children are wired to move around and explore their universe; the classroom is a 19th century anachronism born of capitalism’s fixation with mass production and efficiency. But what if you could walk into a high-tech, wired classroom with a passel of eager kids and head off to anyplace on the planet, taking the classroom with you? That’s the premise of SeaBEAN, a sci-fi adventure novel for children aged eight to 12, written by Sarah Holding and published by Medina Publishing in the UK.
The action takes place in the year 2018 on St. Kilda, a remote group of islands off the western coast of Scotland. Alice is the precocious ten-year-old daughter of a green energy researcher and his wife who have taken up residence on the island to install an experimental wave energy system. The small community includes a half-dozen children, all taught by a single teacher. One day, the ferry delivers a large black box, called a “C-Bean,” and its powers are as amazing as Dr. Who’s Tardis, but with a bookish bent. The kid-friendly device is easy for Alice to crack, and she leads her school friends on travels to New York, Brasil, China, and St. Kilda’s namesake in Australia, collecting a stray dog and and endangered parrot, as well as information. As children of green energy pioneers, they are keenly interested in caring for the environment, and they quickly learn that some adults prefer profiting off the earth than caring for it.
Told with a mixture of faux blog postings and conventional narrative, SeaBEAN is an enjoyable fantasy with a clear message about environmental stewardship. But the author missed a couple of opportunities for deeper exploration of Alice and her world. Early in the story, her mother gives birth to her baby brother, but the child has no discernible impact on Alice’s emotional life. And the death of her teacher’s sister, which causes him to leave the island for a time, offers Alice little more than a chance to take the C-Bean on a trip. SeaBEAN is the first of a three-part series, which includes the upcoming SeaWAR and SeaRISE. (SeaBEAN presents the first chapter of SeaWAR as an extra, and the second book holds promise for danger and a history lesson.) Perhaps we’ll learn more about the family and community life in the second and third books. In the meantime, 10-year-olds will be jealous of Alice’s amazing mobile classroom.