Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Hawking, Lucy & Stephen (with Christophe Galford). George’s Secret Key to the Universe (3 1/2 out of 4 stars)
While attending the NJEA convention in November 2007, I stopped at a booth that had a semi-circular screen that looked like the night sky. It was a demonstration for a product that enables any student “traveler” to go anywhere in the Universe. Sitting in a chair under a canopy of stars, I felt the thrill that all explorers feel when they discover something startlingly new, that exultation Keats felt after reading George Chapman’s translation of Homer, Einstein felt at solving relativity, Sagan felt among his starstuff, and Hawking felt when he first imagined standing on the event horizon of a black hole. The last example is most relevant here because Hawking, his daughter Lucy, and science writer Christophe Galford have turned a love affair with science into an enjoyable Magic Tree House-type book (and planned series) on astronomy. As well as being scientifically perfect (as far as any reader of A Brief History of Time can tell), George’s Secret Key to the Universe pays particular homage to Hawking’s favorite topic, black holes, and it introduces information I did not know about those strange cosmological phenomena.
All that George Greenby wants is to be a normal kid with a computer, cell phone, iPod, and Game Boy, but his vegetarian, earthy parents are staunch Luddites who refuse to allow any technology to taint their lives: “The only problem was that in getting rid of everything that could possibly harm George, his parents had managed to do away with lots of things that would also be fun for him” (5). The greener his parents are, the more George wants to explore technology, and in particular, science. He gets his chance when his pet pig, Freddie, escapes and runs Next Door, to an overgrown and scary yard. But when George overcomes his fears of the unknown and runs after Freddie, he discovers new friends in Annie, her astronomer father Eric, and Cosmos, who boastfully refers to itself as the world’s most powerful computer: “In the future, there will be computers more powerful than me. But there are none in the past or present” (37). When George is forced to tell his teacher, Mr. G. Reeper, about Cosmos, he starts an adventure that leads him to the edge of the galaxy and into a plot by Reeper to steal Cosmos and get rid of Eric.
Like many current novels, the Hawkings’ effort is a cross-genre work. Interspersed between text and black and white margin pictures are Magic Tree House-style, full-page descriptions of cosmic phenomena. Also, color pictures enhance the material by adding a dose of reality to the storyline. George is a likable character who will appeal to all science lovers, and teachers will love many of the characters’ intense curiosity about the Universe. Although the story gets a bit far-fetched, and Dr. Reeper’s behavior is a bit over the top, Science is the main feature of George’s Secret Key to the Universe, and it is presented enthusiastically and lovingly in the spirit of Sagan, Feynman, and Dr. Hawking himself.


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