Adventure novel explores the world of wastewater

July 19, 2007
Children often talk about "poop," but they probably don't spend much time thinking about sewage treatment or how new houses create a need for more wastewater capacity. In a new book aimed at middle-schoolers, three curious kids do more than think about it. On a misguided, Christmas Day adventure, they get an up-close-and-personal lesson about rampant development and the millions of gallons of sewage that result...

By Tom Angleberger, Roanoke Times

Children often talk about "poop," but they probably don't spend much time thinking about sewage treatment or how new houses create a need for more wastewater capacity.

"I seriously doubt that most middle school students think they have a reason to be too worried about that. It's just not on the radar screen," says Amy Cummings, a middle school librarian. "I'm sure most kids don't think of waste as something that is anyone's problem to deal with, much less theirs."

In a new book aimed at middle-schoolers, three curious kids do more than think about it. On a misguided, Christmas Day adventure, they get an up-close-and-personal lesson about rampant development and the millions of gallons of sewage that result.

"The Qwikpick Adventure Society" is a novel for young readers, ages 7 to 13, from The Penguin Group. It's a quirky, fictional addition to non-fiction sewage books such as: "Flush! Treating Wastewater," "Who Keeps the Water Clean? Ms. Schindler!" and "What Happens When I Flush the Toilet?"

Kirkus Review, a publication that reviews children's literature, says the book is "likely to be greeted with howls of laughter by second-graders of all ages."

But perhaps it will also enlighten them a bit.

"I think it dawns on the three characters, even if they don't talk about it, that regardless of whether you live in the trailer park, the town home, or the expensive house, your waste ends up in the same place," says Cummings.

That place is a real-life wastewater treatment plant in Virginia. Sam Riddleburger, author of "The Qwikpick Adventure Society," visited the plant before he began writing the novel.

"I was blown away by the sights and smells and I thought kids would be, too," he says.

Riddleburger, a newspaper reporter, first wrote a news article about upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant in a rural, but growing, Virginia town. To handle all the development in the area, the town was expanding capacity at the plant and replacing a "sludge fountain" with a more modern piece of aeration equipment.

"The book is set in the same sort of town, with townhouses and subdivisions popping up all around," says Riddleburger. "Three kids who hang around a Qwikpick convenience store hear about the sewerage upgrade and want to see the sludge fountain before it gets shut down. Unfortunately, they decide to sneak in. Things go wrong, but luckily the plant manager appears to save the day."

The manager, of course, takes the opportunity to explain a bit about how the facility works and to assure them that the water is very clean once it leaves.

"I certainly think that the book provides solid (no pun intended) factual information about how such things work," says middle school teacher Reva Douglas. "I enjoyed it myself immensely; it was a delightful book. I'll read it to my sixth graders every year."

"The novel doesn't go into too much technical detail," notes Riddleburger, "but it's not meant to be a textbook. The book should make kids curious and hopefully someone at their local facility will be able to give them the story behind the story."

For more information about any of the books in this article, visit www.qwikpick.com or www.amazon.com

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Also see: "The inspiring fountains of poop" (Roanoke Times review of Qwikpick Adventure Society)

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