BLAST OFF!

From the Alien in My Pocket series , Vol. 1

Fourth-grader Zack McGee’s plans for his new school year change drastically when a 4-inch-tall blue alien crashes into his bedroom and asks for help to return to his home world.

First in a series combining scientific facts, projects and alien-invasion stories, this is an agreeable introduction. Zack’s desperate efforts to conceal his new friend and to build a replacement launching system for his space ship provide both suspense and humor. He can’t hide Amp from neighbor and best friend Olivia, but that’s a good thing. She helps him construct a bottle rocket that soars satisfyingly high though not far enough to send Amp back into space. Unlike the rest of his scientific family, Zack has been a less-than-stellar performer in school, more interested in baseball. This provides plenty of opportunity for both Olivia and Amp to explain things to him and to readers along the way. Step-by-step instructions for constructing a rocket using a 2-liter soda bottle, a rubber stopper, duct tape and a bicycle pump are appended. Short chapters and black-and-white comics-style illustrations add reader appeal. A sequel, The Science Unfair (978-0-06-231494-9), will be published simultaneously, and a third, Radio Active, is scheduled for May 2014. A pleasing combination of fact and fancy, the Alien in My Pocket series will be welcomed by science-minded middle-grade readers. (Science fiction. 7-11)

 

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-231491-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2013

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Both cozy and inspiring, this eco-fable conveys both grim truths and a defiant call to action.

THE SILVER ARROW

The best birthday present is a magical train full of talking animals—and a new job.

On Kate’s 11th birthday, she’s surprised by the arrival of rich Uncle Herbert. Uncle Herbert bears a gift: a train. Not a toy train, a 102.36-ton steam engine, with cars that come later. When Kate and her brother, Tom, both white, play in the cab of the Silver Arrow, the train starts up, zooming to a platform packed with animals holding tickets. Thus begins Kate and Tom’s hard work: They learn to conduct the train and feed the fire box, instructed by the Silver Arrow, which speaks via printed paper tape. The Silver Arrow is a glorious playground: The library car is chockablock with books while the candy car is brimful of gobstoppers and gummy bears. But amid the excitement of whistle-blowing and train conducting, Kate and Tom learn quiet messages from their animal friends. Some species, like gray squirrels and starlings, are “invaders.” The too-thin polar bear’s train platform has melted, leaving it almost drowned. Their new calling is more than just feeding the coal box—they need to find a new balance in a damaged world. “Feeling guilty doesn’t help anything,” the mamba tells them. Humans have survived so effectively they’ve taken over the world; now, he says, “you just have to take care of it.” (Illustrations not seen.)

Both cozy and inspiring, this eco-fable conveys both grim truths and a defiant call to action. (Fantasy. 8-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-53953-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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Thought-provoking and charming.

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THE WILD ROBOT

A sophisticated robot—with the capacity to use senses of sight, hearing, and smell—is washed to shore on an island, the only robot survivor of a cargo of 500.

When otters play with her protective packaging, the robot is accidently activated. Roz, though without emotions, is intelligent and versatile. She can observe and learn in service of both her survival and her principle function: to help. Brown links these basic functions to the kind of evolution Roz undergoes as she figures out how to stay dry and intact in her wild environment—not easy, with pine cones and poop dropping from above, stormy weather, and a family of cranky bears. She learns to understand and eventually speak the language of the wild creatures (each species with its different “accent”). An accident leaves her the sole protector of a baby goose, and Roz must ask other creatures for help to shelter and feed the gosling. Roz’s growing connection with her environment is sweetly funny, reminiscent of Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family. At every moment Roz’s actions seem plausible and logical yet surprisingly full of something like feeling. Robot hunters with guns figure into the climax of the story as the outside world intrudes. While the end to Roz’s benign and wild life is startling and violent, Brown leaves Roz and her companions—and readers—with hope.

Thought-provoking and charming. (Science fiction/fantasy. 7-11)

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-38199-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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