Parker Bell and the Science of Friendship

by Cynthia Platt and Rea Zhai

In this fun young-middle-grade novel with STEM appeal, Parker really wants to win the school Science Triathlon—but first she’ll have to figure out how to keep her BFF from being stolen.

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328973474
  • ISBN-10: 1328973476
  • Pages: 160
  • Publication Date: 05/21/2019
  • Carton Quantity: 24

About the book

In this fun young-middle-grade novel with STEM appeal, Parker really wants to win the school Science Triathlon—but first she’ll have to figure out how to keep her BFF from being stolen. 


Budding scientist Parker Bell really wants to win the school Science Triathlon and follow in the footsteps of her idols, chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall and astronaut Mae Jemison. She’s sure that if she teams up with her trivia whiz BFF, Cassie, they will dominate the Science Bee, Egg Drop, and Animal Adaptation Presentation. When Cassie invites her new friend, Theo, to join their team, Parker is worried—that Theo won't help them win and might steal her best friend. As the three work together, Parker learns that you don’t have to be the best to be a real scientist and a good friend.

About the author
Cynthia Platt

Cynthia Platt received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University and is the author of several books for children, including the picture books Grow, A Little Bit of Love, and Panda-Monium!, and the middle grade novel Parker Bell and the Science of Friendship. A long-time children's book editor, Cynthia has also worked as a high school English teacher and at educational nonprofits. Visit her online at and on Twitter @cynplatt.

Rea Zhai

Rea Zhai received a BFA in Media Design from China Central Academy of Fine Arts and an MFA from Academy of Art University, and works as a freelance illustrator. She lives with her husband and their three cute cats in Beijing, China. Visit her online at and on Instagram @zhazhazhaart. 


Chapter 1

The Fashion Experiment

Parker Bell loved science. One day, she hoped to be a world-famous scientist, making important discoveries and engineering robots to help people do amazing and exciting things. But first, she had to finish going to Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary School. 

      And before she did that, she had to get dressed for what was going to be one of the best, most important days of science at school ever. 

      The getting dressed part was proving difficult. 

      “Parker, just pick out some clothes. It doesn’t matter which ones!” her mom called. “You’re going to be late.” 

      “I’ll be right there!” Parker yelled back. 

      Still in her pajamas, Parker stood in front of her closet and tried to figure out what to wear so she would look strong and smart and scientific. After trying on (and taking back off again) three different outfits, though, she knew she needed a plan. 

      But where to start? If Parker could use a scientific method of inquiry for her experiments, maybe she could use that to get dressed, too. She figured it was worth a try. 

      INITIAL QUESTION: What is the perfect outfit to wear for today’s Big Science Announcement? 

      BRAINSTORM SOLUTIONS: Dressing like a fierce animal might show everyone how fierce my interest in science is. 

      GATHER DATA: In my closet, I have dresses in zebra and leopard patterns, and a black-and-white one that looks like an orca. Orcas are definitely the smartest of those three animals. 

      USE DATA TO MAKE A PREDICTION: So if I dress like an orca, then my classmates and Ms. Garcia will see how smart and scientific I am. Everyone will notice this and know how excited I am about science and the announcement today! 

      Okay, so this wasn’t strictly scientific. But at least Parker could get the reactions of her parents and friends to have some evidence to communicate about her experiment afterward. Treating it as an experiment also definitely helped her pick out the right clothes for the day: her black-and-white dress and black boots with tassels on the back. To top off her outfit, she put on a satin headband with tiny orcas embroidered all over it. Because today she needed to be strong and smart, just like an orca. 

      When Parker stopped to gaze at herself in the mirror, she knew she had a great look going. 

      Then she saw her favorite scientists staring at her from the posters over her bed. Jane Goodall had a look of gentle disappointment on her face. The same one Parker’s mother had worn when Parker took apart the toaster in her Mad Science Lab last summer to see how it worked. It had frustrated Parker and her mother when Parker discovered toasters are easier to take apart than put back together. 

      “I know you don’t dress up,” Parker told Poster Jane. “But just because you live with chimpanzees doesn’t mean that I do!” 

      This didn’t seem to change Jane’s mind in any way, so Parker turned to her other favorite scientist. “You get it, Mae,” she said. “I know you do.” 

      Mae Jemison smiled down at Parker from her poster, looking pretty amazing herself in her orange astronaut flight suit. Parker could see that Mae understood. 

      “And you do too, don’t you, Algebra?” Parker knelt by her guinea pig’s cage to scratch the little piggy behind his ears, making him squeak happily. She flicked the lever on the robotic guinea pig feeder she’d built over the course of last summer. She’d attached some of the toaster parts to cogs from her Mad Science Lab. It turned out that the same device that lifted bread out of the toaster was also great for lifting a box of rodent pellets, which then poured through a funnel into Algebra’s bowl. Parker had thought the robotic feeder was a great way to recycle and reuse, but her mom hadn’t been too thrilled about having to buy a new toaster. 

      And now her mom was calling from down the hall. “PARKER! You’re going to miss the bus!” 

      “Oops—coming!” Parker called back. She turned to Algebra. “I’ll catch your sweet furry face later.” 

      She could hear Algebra squeaking loudly as she ran to the kitchen. She paused in the kitchen doorway, waiting for her mom to look up and notice her orca outfit. This was the first test of her fashion experiment, and Parker couldn’t wait to see what would happen! 

      But her mother looked at her as if this were any other day and any other outfit. “Dad brought these up from the bakery,” her mom said, pointing to two ginormous blueberry muffins. “One for you and one for Cassie. You’re going to have to eat on the bus, though, because you’re so late.” 

      Parker stayed in the doorway for another second, hoping her mother would say something else. Something maybe about her scientifically chosen outfit. 

      “What are you waiting for?” her mom said, totally skipping over the important stuff. “The bus is coming!” 

      Parker’s first test of her prediction was a bust. Her mom totally didn’t notice any correlation between Parker’s clothes and the Big Science Announcement at school. With a sigh, Parker scooped up the muffins and opened the back door, yelling down to the bakery on the first floor, “Thanks, Dad!” before running downstairs to catch the bus. 

      “Have a good day!” her mom called behind her. Parker still thought she was the most amazing mom ever, even if she didn’t test well with Parker’s scientifically chosen fashion. Or understand Parker’s sense of style in general. Or appreciate her interest in taking apart small appliances in the name of science. 

      Besides, Parker was very sure her best friend, Cassie Malouf, would understand her outfit and prove that it was scientifically the best she could have worn.

When Parker got on the bus, though, she didn’t see Cassie in their seat, the sixth row on the left. Cassie was always in their seat. 

      Instead, Theo Zachary was sitting there, being his extra-tall, big-eared self. Parker was not a big fan of Theo. He had been her science partner once in second grade. He didn’t talk to her at all during the entire class. And he spilled so much water during their sink-or-float experiment that nothing could sink or float in the end. They got a one out of four on that assignment. 

      Parker Bell had never gotten a one out of four in science before that. Ever. It hadn’t been a good feeling. 

      Now Theo was on her school bus....


"A lighthearted read that will offer comfort to young children that others too face challenges of friendship, teamwork and competition."—Kirkus 


"A delightful combination of science and narrative." —School Library Journal 


"[A] spirited middle grade debut...with relatable themes.... [where] open-mindedness, teamwork, and burgeoning friendship triumph." —Publishers Weekly