Tag Archives: science fiction

Sometimes one trick is all you need

nathan hale one trick ponyStrata is not a rule follower.  She and her buddies have gotten away from their Mad Max-ish caravan and are looking for treasures.  Probably they shouldn’t be doing this, because the Pipers (evil, energy-seeking aliens) are close enough that—oops!–Strata and her friends might uncover something that would attract them.

But there’s a pony!  And Kleidi (the pony) is a neat twist on the cliché of girls and ponies, because Kleidi is a robot, a fast and clever robot. Kleidi can also stop really fast and hard.

Along the way, we learn about the dystopian homeland that the Earth has become, and how humans have adapted and yet are still losing against aliens who see them and their planet simply as food and minerals.  It’s nothing like Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales about moments in U.S. history, and yet the storytelling and art are equally perfect for the topic.

Pick up Zita the Spacegirl  (Ben Hatke) and you’ve got an excellent double feature for a rainy afternoon of reading.

one Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

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If you’ve ever wondered about lava tubes or pooping in space…

spaced out

 

I know.  That’s not much of a way to start any kind of grown up review of a book.  But seriously, if you’re that grown up, you probably shouldn’t be reading middle grade.  And it’s all scientifically accurate, too, so get past that and read the book, my friends.

A few months ago, I did a little author talk for Mrs. B’s class on Stuart Gibbs, the author of Spaced Out: Moon Base Alpha, as well as the FunJungle  and Spy School series.  What an interesting life!  And the guy’s got a great blog, too. (http://stuartgibbs.com/blog/)  Sure, he spends time promoting his books there, but he also writes about things he cares about.  I took a few entries on endangered rhinos and lava tubes in for the kids to read.  As with his books, they’re a great combination of funny, quirky, and informative.

The entry on lava tubes brings us to Spaced Out, which is also all of those things—funny, quirky, informative.  In addition to a good mystery, you get a lot of cool information about what life would really be like on the moon.  Most of it makes living in Iowa look pretty good, to be honest, but it’s super interesting and answers some of those questions you’d have.  How do you go to the bathroom?  Does anything you eat actually taste good?  How would you go to school?

Dashiell Gibson is still stuck at Moon Base Alpha, and although there are really cool things about it, the toilets aren’t one of them.  Some of his fellow residents are not much more fun.  When someone goes missing, everyone wonders if it’s a repeat of the murder Dash solved in Space Case.  Even doing a search on Moon Base Alpha can be a challenge, and oh, there’s also an alien who visits Dash telepathically.

You’d think all of this could push things over to ridiculous, but it worked for me.  There’s an unexpected bit of heaviness towards the end on taking care of the planet and war – all of which I agree with — but I’m not sure whether kids would be put off by it or not.  They are probably thinking the same thing a lot of the time, so why shouldn’t Dash?

It’s a rare author who can pull off a goofy middle grade-action- adventure-mystery and also manage to broaden your scientific knowledge.  Well done, Stuart Gibbs.  What’s next?

Spaced Out by Stuart Gibbs

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Read you will

trilogy_header_newIn 1977, I was twelve years old. Old enough to ride my bike almost everywhere. Old enough to have some babysitting money to spend. Not old enough to be cynical or to have to pay for car insurance. As I remember it now – who knows if this is accurate? — I saw the first Star Wars movie more than 10 times that summer, riding my bike to the closest theater for the matinees whenever I could. My friend Amy and I had Star Wars shirts, and I started a collection of character cards. My Burger King Star Wars glasses are somewhere in the attic still.

Time passed, the characters in the second trilogy didn’t speak to me, Disney bought the franchise, and here we are now, waiting for the release of a new Star Wars movie. Someone with some smarts and a marketing plan decided that putting out some middle grade Star Wars books would be a good idea. Someone decided to rely on popular authors like Alexandra Bracken, Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark and Grimm), and Tom Angleberger (Origami Yoda series) to do the work. It could have been a complete disaster – predictable retellings falling flat, a whole generation of bored tweens who wouldn’t understand why this whole thing was such a big deal.

But no— fortunately, these authors are too good for that. Alexandra Bracken uses The Princess, the Scoundrel and the Farm Boy to set up the later novels. She relies heavily on the movie script, which worked fine for me, and creates the world of the Empire and the Rebellion in all its most wonderful and most horrible realities. As an adult reading the stories of my youth, it was quick and action-filled and fun, even in the scary moments. Knowing how things would turn out didn’t diminish the story one bit.

Adam Gidwitz follows up with the story from The Empire Strikes Back, but he sets a different tone. So You Want to Be a Jedi? lets the reader really imagine Luke’s internal battle to become a Jedi, and the reader IS Luke, charging ahead, realizing at the last minute that he might not be ready, wanting to help his friends. It’s intense and yet still funny, and maybe some kids will learn to meditate before they face their personal Darth Vaders. Who knows? Loved it!

Tom Angleberger takes on The Return of the Jedi in Beware the Power of the Dark Side! His narrator is all-knowing and sometimes judgmental, which somehow was the perfect follow-up for So You Want to be a Jedi? .

“An endless desert. Two robots. Two robots plodding through and endless desert. Fear not, reader! It will get better!”

There are moments when you, like the characters, are left hanging, and others when you’re in on the joke. This playful, quirky spin worked so well for me that I forgot at one point that I knew exactly what was going to happen. That’s part of the real joy of these books for grown-up fans. Instead of pretending we don’t all have an idea of what’s going to happen, these retellings take what we already know and spin and bounce and have fun with that knowledge. What fun for me! What fun for my 12 year old self remembered!

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