Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third
Three friends, Lupe, El Chavo and Elirio, work together in a garage where they fix cars. They dream of one day having their own garage. Lupe loves working on engines and the mechanics. El Chavo washes them until they shine with his octopus arms. Elirio uses his mosquito size and his long nose to detail the cars. Their favorite kind of car are the low and slow lowriders. So when a contest with a large prize comes along, they know they have to enter. Now they just have to turn a junker into the best car in the universe, so they head into space to see what they can do. This is one unique read that combines space, cars and great friendship.
Camper incorporates Spanish into her story, firmly placing this book into the Hispanic culture. Her characters are clever done. The female in the group is the one who loves engines and mechanical things, yet is incredible feminine too. The book seems to be firmly housed on earth until one big moment launches it into outer space. The incorporation of astronomy into the design and art of the car makes for a book that is wild and great fun to read.
The illustrations by Raul Gonzalez have a cool hipness to them that is honest and without any slickness at all. Done in a limited palette of red, blue and black, the art has a vintage feel that is enhanced by the treatment of the pages with stains and aging.
This graphic novel is cool, star filled, rich with science, and has friendship at its heart. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Gravity by Jason Chin
In his latest book, Chin examines the theory of gravity and how it works on our planet and in the universe. As with his previous books about redwoods and coral reefs, Chin takes a complicated subject and reduces it neatly to a child-appropriate level. He also adds a touch of magic and whimsy. The book begins with the book falling out of the sky and right in front of a boy on a beach, playing with his toy astronaut and rocket. Then gravity goes away and his toys, bucket, shovel and banana head out into space. From there, the effect of gravity on the earth is explained and eventually gravity returns and the objects fall back to earth. But not exactly where you’d expect them to.
Told in very brief sentences, the book will work for even the youngest scientifically-inclined children to enjoy. More information on gravity in a wordier format is provided at the end of the book. Chin keeps the body of the book light-hearted and still scientific even as toys float right past the reader in the vastness of space.
As with any book by Chin, his art is exceptional. He manages on a still page to capture the effect of items floating in space, weightless and free from gravitational pull. He also succeeds in conveying clearly when gravity is turned off and when it is returned, something not easily done in illustrations. The beauty of what he captures is magnificent. He shows the sun from space, the earth, and it is all vast and lovely.
Another winner of a title from Chin, get this into the hands of little ones who dream of science and space. This is a very readable science book that would make a great addition for sharing aloud in a story time or unit. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt, illustrated by Shane Prigmore
Told in the first person by a little boy, this picture book mixes science fiction, space exploration and Kindergarten into one awesome picture book. The boy has been training for this day for some time. He has gotten supplies, been checked by a doctor, and the countdown to lift off has begun. He arrives at the Kindergarten door and his parents leave, returning to their own planet. He joins a classroom filled with aliens from across the galaxies. The commander gives them the day’s flight plan and then they start activities in the capsule, get to explore the planet’s surface for a bit, and even eat space food. By the end of the day, it is Mission Accomplished! And then time to get ready to do it all again.
Ganz-Schmitt nicely ties in science fiction touches throughout the book. The boy’s parents say goodbye with a Vulcan salute! She also focuses on NASA and space flight, pulling these two related but distinct subjects together seamlessly. Children who are fans of either will be right at home here, giggling along with the puns and the idea of school being a space capsule. Her humor is right on, offering just enough to be funny but not too much to lose the concept of it being a Kindergarten book.
Prigmore’s illustrations have a great zany quality that suits the subject matter. I love the other little boy with the hood so that you only see his nose and mouth as well as the other children who look like aliens but you can also see the person in there too. He plays along the line of making it about space but also allowing readers to see the human school underneath too.
Funny and filled with action and adventure, this book will get even the most nervous Kindergarten astronaut giggling about their new mission. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot by Margaret McNamara and Mark Fearing
The story of the Three Little Pigs heads to outer space in this fractured fairy tale. Here there are three little aliens, who must find a new planet to live on. Their mother advises them to stick together, but two of the little aliens don’t listen. When Bork sees the space rover on the red planet, she just can’t resist living there. Gork is drawn in by the satellite circling around a planet surrounded by rings. Nklxwcyz went deep into space until he found a planet that he thought was perfect. It was blue with nice breezes. When the Big Bad Robot arrived in the galaxy, there is no where for Bork and Gork to hide, because they had been too busy playing with their new toys to build homes. So both of them fled to Nlkxwcyz’s house deep in space. And you will just have to read the book to see how the Big Bad Robot is defeated.
While this is a light-hearted fiction book, it is also one that has some science mixed in. The planets that the three aliens travel to are the planets in our galaxy. They start out at home at Mercury. Bork settles on Mars, Gork on Saturn and Nlkxwcyz on Neptune. This adds a nice dimension to the book.
McNamara’s prose is a pleasure to read aloud. The noises of the Big Bad Robot add much to the book’s fun and build the tension up. The illustrations by Fearing are quirky and fun. The backdrop of stars and the familiar planets make for a winning setting for the pictures.
A fun, fractured fairy tale, this book will be popular with children who enjoy space and robots. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade Books.
Also reviewed by:
Older Than the Stars by Karen C. Fox, illustrated by Nancy Davis
Celebrate the age of your atoms with this dynamic nonfiction picture book. Starting with the lines:
You are older than the dinosaurs.
Older than the earth.
Older than the sun and all the planets.
You are older than the stars.
You are as old as the universe itself.
Through a traditional folktale format of cumulative rhyming lines, this book can be read in several ways. The rhymes serve as a structure for the book, but the real pleasure is in the scientific facts that are presented with flair and an eagerness that make them fun to read. Young readers will learn about the Big Bang, how stars were created, and how our planet and humans came about. The book ends with a colorful timeline and a glossary of terms.
Fox’s rhyming is catchy and sound. Her scientific information is interesting and a pleasure to read. Featuring strong colors, deep contrasts and vivid design, Davis’ illustrations are dynamic. They have a timeless feel that is very appropriate for the subject, yet they are definitely modern in feel as well.
A great nonfiction picture book on a subject that will intrigue young readers, this picture book will not sit still on shelves for long. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Robot Zot! by Jon Scieszka and David Shannon
Robot Zot is here to conquer the earth. His battle cry rings out: “Robot Zot – never fall. Robot Zot – conquer all!” He finds himself in a house and destroys a blender with his blaster. He then wrestles a vacuum cleaner tube on his way to blast his enemy, which happens to be a TV. But something surprising is waiting for Robot Zot! His Queen! He can only reach his ship if he makes it past the Commander General who is in his way and insists on licking his queen.
Robot Zot is a delightful romp of a book. The combination of Scieszka’s text with Shannon’s art is irresistible. Combine it with robots and outer space, and this is one book that you can expect to be read to tatters. Scieszka’s text is humorous, fast-paced, and surprising. The reveal of Robot Zot’s small size is done with such style in Shannon’s art as are other great humorous touches. The two work together seamlessly, sharing punchlines and big laughs smoothly.
A must-read for children who love robots and space, this book could be purchased just for the explosion of the television set. If read to a class, expect lots of blaster and explosive play. Inventive, funny and a great joy, this book is appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Also reviewed by Fuse #8.
Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires
A new graphic novel series launches off with this first title. Binky is a house cat who has never left the family “space station.” But he is a cat with a purpose! He is a space cat and will one day blast into outer space. He can’t leave the space station without a helmet and other gear because he wouldn’t be able to breathe. But even in the space station, he is surrounded by aliens. He knows they are aliens because they can fly. Readers will know they fly because they ARE flies. Binky has to keep his special identity a secret from his humans. So they don’t know of his ongoing research or the fact that he is building a space craft in his litter box. Will Binky blast off? Or will his dreams fizzle out?
Spires has created a graphic novel with broad appeal. Binky is a winning main character with his dreams, fears and bravery shown clearly. This is a fresh-feeling book that has its own unique artistic style. The illustrations are done in near sepia tones with bright bursts of red throughout. They are filled with funny action. Binky is portrayed as a cat with a round belly but lots of energy and drive.
Young readers who enjoy more pictures with their books will be right at home here. It is an easy graphic novel that does not speak down to young readers.
Recommended for all library collections, this series deserves a spot on graphic novel shelves for elementary-aged readers. I happily await the next Binky adventure. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from publisher.
Also reviewed at Three Silly Chicks, A Year of Reading, 100 Scope Notes, and Young Readers.
The Swamps of Sleethe by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Jimmy Pickering.
Climb into your spaceship and travel from one strange world to another, each with some strange twist and surprise. It’s a trip that only Prelutsky could take you on with his signature mix of poetic humor and chills. Each world is captured with a single poem that is paired with illustrations by Pickering which are equally funny and dark. Part of the fun of the book is unscrambling the planets names into words that describe them. Pure word fun from beginning to end!
Prelutsky takes readers from icy planets to dangerous forests. You will visit planets with water you should not drink and planets with air you should not breathe. Danger lurks around every corner, usually in surprising places with even more astonishing results. This book is dark, showing one way after another to die on distant planets. Middle-school and early elementary children will embrace it. It’s not for preschoolers.
If you are asked to read for a 4th or 5th grade class, this book would be a perfect read aloud. You will get gasps and giggles often at the same time. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from copy received from publisher.
Also reviewed by A Patchwork of Books.
You Are the First Kid on Mars by Patrick O’Brien
What would it be like to be the first kid on Mars? This picture book takes readers on a journey to the red planet, offering intriguing details along the way. First, readers learn a bit about the planet itself, then there is docking with the space station and the four month trip to get to Mars. Landing on the dusty planet surface, plus a look at the station on Mars are highlights of the book. Also intriguing is the question of life on Mars, answered without sensationalism.
The entire book exudes a feeling of reality, which makes the reading all that more immediate and satisfying. Children will find new questions as they read, intrigued by false gravity aboard the ship, inflated green houses, and robots used to explore the planets. O’Brien’s text is like that of a nonfiction book for children, offering captions and a mix of close-ups and smaller images. His illustrations are clearly paintings, but such lifelike ones that readers may just forget they aren’t looking at a photograph.
Sure to rocket right off the shelves, this book will satisfy space-loving kids. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Check out O’Brien’s website for some gorgeous images from the book.
Children interested in Mars exploration will enjoy the Mars Rover Documentary that can be found on YouTube:
One Giant Leap by Robert Burleigh, paintings by Mike Wimmer.
In this stunning picture book, Wimmer’s remarkably realistic and expressive paintings are paired with Burleigh’s evocative and powerful verse. Together the two capture the feeling of the moonwalk for Americans in 1969. Children who have long known we reached the moon will be caught up in the drama of the landing and the uncertainty of the astronauts’ safe return.
Burleigh’s poetry dances with a rhythm and deft pacing. When readers are holding their breath with the tension, the poems come to a near halt too. When readers are celebrating the accomplishment the poetry races, lifts, and spins. Wimmer’s paintings are equally successful as they capture views that couldn’t be seen, scenes that were never viewed before. They too are filled with realism, fear, and continually hope.
A masterful pairing of paintings and verse, this book soars. Highly recommended for classrooms talking about the moon landing as well as children who are interested in space. Appropriate for ages 5-8.