Thursday, April 3, 2014

Alien in My Pocket: Blast Off!

Alien in My Pocket: Blast Off!

Nate Ball
HarperCollins, 2014 143 pgs  
Grades 2-4
Science Fiction/Humor


Imagine hanging out in your room, procrastinating from studying, when a miniature spaceship crashes through your window and against your wall?  This is exactly what happens to fourth grader, Zack, in this start to a new chapter book series. Zack is determined to make a fresh start in fourth grade.  His efforts seem undermined when the spaceship pays an unexpected call.  Much to the alien's surprise he is much smaller than the average human and can fit comfortably in a pocket.  This results in humorous results when Zack takes him to school the next day.  The alien, Amp, has the ability to hypnotism people, which also adds to the humor.  Zack and his friend, Olivia, must help Amp repair his spaceship and get back to his home planet to call off the impending invasion.  But how to repair the spaceship?  Zack and Olivia use ingenuity and the scientific method to get Amp's space ship off the ground.  The experiment used by the children is included in the back of the book with step-by-step instructions and safety tips.  The story is liberally supported by large, cartoon-like illustrations that add to the madcap nature of the story.  Does the experiment succeed?  Does Amp manage to call off the alien invasion?  Does Zack manage to stay out of trouble?  These and other question provide a natural segue to the next offering in the series The Science Unfair (also available through HarperCollins).

Who says science can't be fun?  Blast Off!  is a very promising debut to the Alien in My Pocket series.  It is a perfect level for those starting chapter books and/or reluctant older readers.  The chapters are short, the margins are big and there are enough illustrations to satisfy even the most reluctant reader.  Zack is a sympathetic narrator and becomes increasingly likable because of his imperfections and tendency to fall into trouble.  He is well balanced by his organized and book-smart best friend/neighbor and the two children work together nicely. There are laughs on every page, but the book is not for entertainment only.  Scientific principals are explained and real information (such as teaching what the atomic number of an element determines) is offered in a non-threatening way that is unobtrusive to the plot.  Each title in the series will include a science experiment that you can do at home, which is a great touch. Readers at this level find comfort in series and this one fills a hole and has a lot to offer.  I liked the book enough that I plan on using it as the lead-in title for next year's 3/4 grade book discussion group.  Alien in My Pocket reminds me of an updated Indian in the Cupboard.  Who wouldn't want a little alien friend to hang out with all day at school in your pocket?  Add in the fact that the alien can hypnotism people into doing your will and throw in a science experiment involving root beer and we have a winner!  

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