Thursday, February 12, 2015

George's Secret Key to the Universe

George's Secret Key to the Universe
Lucy & Stephen Hawking
Simon & Schuster, 2007  297 pgs.
Grades 4-6
Science Fiction

George's pet pig runs away, landing in his new neighbor's kitchen.
He becomes acquainted with Eric, a friendly scientist, and his young daughter Annie.  George is very interested in science, but his environmentally conscious parents are anti-technology and science.  George has so many questions and Eric, an astrophysicist, loves to share his knowledge.  He introduces George to the smartest computer in the world, Cosmos, who has a personality and is a character in his own right.  Through Cosmos Eric, and eventually George and Annie, are able to travel into outer space and explore the universe.  George's creepy teacher, Dr. Graham Reeper, knows about Cosmos and recruits the classroom bullies to try to get his hands on the super computer.  Meanwhile, George explores outer space with both Lucy and Eric, as he learns first-hand about the secrets of the universe, all while battling Dr. Reeper and his team of thugs.  Adventure, misunderstandings, and getting in and out of trouble keep George hopping, all while trying to come up with a great idea for the science fair, where he can stand to win his own computer.  Will Dr. Reeper get his greedy paws on Cosmos?  Will Eric be lost in space forever?  Will George ever win his desired computer?  These and other questions are answered by the conclusion of the book.

Lucy Hawking, Stephen's daughter, collaborates with genius dad in presenting this fictionalized account of real facts.  The book clearly has an agenda; presenting scientific information about astrophysics on a child's level.  The science is thinly veiled within the adventurous story at the expense of character development and believe-ability.  In other words, this is not the best written book for children, but it serves the purpose the authors intended: to educate children in an entertaining way.  Certain plot points (the introduction of the pig in the beginning, only to have her not be part of the story and George's masterful win at the science fair when he only talks about space) are weak.  Dr. Reeper is straight out of a comic book and the other characters are also underdeveloped.  The plot quickly moves and hold's kid's interest.  The science is written in a child friendly way and is learned as George is actually in outer space.  Hawking includes fact boxes, tables, charts, and color photos to further educate.  The main theme is: since our planet is in trouble, should we put our efforts into finding a new place to live or saving the current planet?  Hawking pleads for both sides, showing us that both science exploration and environmental protection are equally important.  Cartoon-like illustrations generously decorate the book's pages, helping to move the reader along and adding to the fun. There are humorous parts to the story, also making this book an enjoyable read.  Both boys and girls will like this book and it is appropriate for smart second and third graders who need a challenge.  This is a great choice for science-minded kids or for students to help supplement the curriculum.  Two more books are in the series, so Hawking offers somewhere to go when this book is finished.

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