Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The little yellow school spaceship again: Caroline Luzzatto, Interplanetary Avenger. New York: Holiday House, 2005.

A school story. Sam is being bullied. He opens a package which allows an alien from another universe to enter his world. The alien is a shape changer. There are "hilarious" results.

I don't want to do this book down. It's funny. It's got lots of body parts. I enjoyed it.

But it's a school story about a boy learning to deal with bullying. And even the alien school is recogniseably an American alien shool.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Thinking Scientifically: Terry Deary, Classified: Break Out. London: Kingfisher, 2004 (c. 1996)

I had decided not to blog this book. It's essentially a true crime story about Mike Baines, imprisoned in the US in 1977 for spying, told from the point of view if his cellmate who may or may not have helped him escape.

It's the may or may not that leads me to include it in my research notes. At the end of the book Deary takes us through all the evidence, showing a child how to subject it to analysis. I actually enjoyed this more than the story itself.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Lightening Bugs Galvanise: Steve Cousins, Frankenbug, New York: Holiday House, 2000.

Adam collects bugs. He's actually pretty obsessed even by the standards of your average nerd. The bane of his life is of course the school bully Jeb (the son of the local Police Chief, just to make it worse).

Adam decides to make a Frankenbug, He's read Frankenstein so knows about to go about it. He does his research, sends off for exotic pickled bugs and eventually settles on the lightening of lightening bugs to bring his creation to life. Frankenbug doesn't turn out quite as planned: he prefers marshmallows to meat, but he is pretty scary and does frighten the bully. There is some misunderstanding, and Frankenbug has to show off his powers, and eventually Adam gets to keep him and the bully gets his come-uppance.

The book could be written off as fantasy but it is written utterly from the sensibility of a nerd. There are long, loving descriptions of different insects and their abilities. Adam describes his research and his experiments. When Jeb teases him it is less for the bugs than for his obsession with the scientific method.

And one last, heart warming detail; the girl who stands up for Adam does so, not by lying, but by offering a piece of circumstantial evidence that corroborates his arguments. And her name is Mary Wolcraft.

(ps. Book finished a few days early. Yay me! I'll be blogging children's books regularly again now, and around May will be back in the library looking at Childhood Studies.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Leave of Absence

I'm currently in the end stages of a book. I'm planning to hand it in on 28 February. This pretty much means I need to spend every spare minute of the day on it.

So I hope you will accept my apologies but the next post will be on 28 February.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Clever Boy!: Space Station Rat by Michael J. Daley. Holiday House/New York, 2005.

Jeff is bored on the space station. Things have gone wrogn and his Dad, instead of helping him, is occupied helping his mother, a Solar Phycisist.

Rat on the other hand has no time to be bored. She is hungry and lonely, and the hunger comes first. She escaped from a research facility, lost her tools in the process and somehow took a wrong turning. Now she is trapped on the space station. There is no food--only the boy is messy enough to leave left overs--and after exploring the station she realises she was lucky to survive the trip up.

Watching the boy, Rat learns to get food from the machines and it is this that almost gets her caught. The boy is so excited he askss to join the hunt, only at the last moment does he realist that this is a living, breathing person the robots are trying to kill. He saves Rat, smuggles her into his room and defends her from all comers.

The book ends with Rat trying to teach him sign language and Jeff working out how he can keep her secret for the two weeks before going back to Earth.

Not once does the boy or the author hint that Rat's future is as a pet rat. She is an independent person and the boy is her friend.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Oh I do hope no one will think this is science fiction: Helen Dunmore, Fatal Errors London: Corgi Yearling, 1996.

Nicky's dad has died and she is living with his old friends, Bella and Virgil. Bella and Virgil own a fairground ride, Space Ranger, which gives the impression of a journey into outer-space. Or does it?

The plot is a farrago in which a rival family tries to sabotage the ride. It's interest for us is that when Nicky and her friend Steve are trapped on the ride, there are very strong implications that the ride is more than that. They indeed be in space.

But it is all left ambiguous, and at the end it becomes irrelevant because Bella and Virgil decide to close the ride and replace it with something more spectacular.

A very good book in terms of the portrayal of Nicky and Steve (highly recommended in fact) but Dunmore seems to balk at the idea of having produced sf.

ps. The third ZouZou Corder has just come out. I can't face reading it. I loved the first but was very disappointed in the second. And I also have another hundred books in the back room waiting for my attention. If any of you read it and want to review it, I'll publish it as a guest blog.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Sleator and the Sentimental Genres: William Sleator, The Last Universe. New York: Amulet Books, 2005.

If Heinlein was the gold standard for children's sf in the 1950s, Norton in the 1960s and Christopher in the 1970s, then William Sleator has pretty much dominated the next thirty years. First, he has written sf for children and juveniles (I've refused "YA" for a reason I'll come to in a minute) even when there wasn't a market, and second, he is the only writer working in this area who works with maths, rather than engineering, futuristic adventure or alien contact (actually, the engineering is also in pretty short supply).

In The Last Universe Susan's brother Gary is dying of leukemia (although the disease is never mentioned). At the bottom of the garden is a maze which you can see from the bedroom windows but cannot get to. The maze is the heart of a family mystery: where are Susan and Gary's relatives? Why is the gardner (Luke) so hostile to any attempts to explore the wilder parts of the garden? And why is the cat called Sro-dee?

When they finally enter the maze Susan and Gary find themselves disappearing into probability clouds and reappearing in worlds where Gary is slightly better. The "adventure" proceeds as the two keep exploring the maze until they miscalculate and emerge into a world in which Gary is far worse and dies, leaving Susan to find the way to the centre (and her relatives) and then, with the help of Sro-dee (Schroedinger's Cat) to escape into another possibility.

In this last universe Gary is miraculously well, and this time dating a pretty girl called Lisa who in a previous possibility had been Susan's nerdy friend. We have moved, in essence, from the world of juveniles in which its the maths that's important to a YA in which the love and the emotion take centre stage. It's an important switch: in that first world Gary demands of Susan that she lock emotion away and focus on the evidence of the garden so that he may find a cure. In this world it is Susan who is ill and Gary and Lisa refuse her demand for the science and logic of the garden, focusing instead on the YA theme of sorrow and pity and sentiment. In this world not only is it Susan (rather than Gary) who is ill, but stuck in the wrong genre she is doomed to die.