Spaceheadz, by Jon Scieszka and Francesco Sedita, illustrated by Shane Prigmore (Simon and Schuster, 2010, middle grade, 161 pages, but since several are written in Hamster, etc., it's a slightly shorter book in actual fact)
Poor Michael. It's his first day of fifth grade at a new school, and he's been stuck (horribly, irrefutably stuck in the way that only bad classroom luck can stick you) with the other two new kids, Jennifer and Bob. And Jennifer and Bob are more than just your standard playground albatrosses of social misfortune. They claim to be aliens on a mission to save Earth by signing up 3.14 million and 1 kids to be SPHDZ (whatever that means). And to add to the sense of overwhelmingly insane incomprehension Michael is experiencing, their leader is a hamster (see above).
Poor Anti-Alien Agent Umber, one of an elite force whose mission is to protect the Earth from extra-terrestrials. His desire to serve is great, his luck abysmal. The embarrassing "Fried Santa Incident" still haunts him, and he's mortified that he, of all the agents, got stuck with a pickle phone. But when he receives news that aliens have been detected in his territory, he's determined to bring them down....
Jennifer and Bob, whom Michael can't seem to shake, lead him on a nightmarishly dance of commercial-driven consumerism--for some reason, they are obsessed by the advertisements of particular products. Michael, observing their alien behavior, begins to wonder if their story is true, and that tv waves beamed from Earth have become entangled with life on another planet. Once he starts thinking along those lines, it's only a short step to believing the rest of their story--that Earth will turned off, like a boring tv program, unless the 3.14 (and one) SPHDZ can be recruited....
Copious illustrations, full page breaks from the story to explain relevant bits of science in humours diagrams, and a friendly hand-written font give this the feel less of a "straight chapter book" and more the feel of a "straight chapter book meets a graphic novel for kids." In short, it's a very kid friendly book, with a very kid friendly story, and lots of laughs (and as an added bonus (?) there is no potty humor).
My one reservation about this book is that it relies heavily on the audience being media savvy, and I think that to appreciate it fully, the reader needs to have watched lots of commercials. My ten year old test read hasn't (just a few, at grandma's house, which is a good thing, because that one commercial about athlete's foot he saw came up in conversation for the next three months), and so he didn't quite get the point of this book.
That being said, he still enjoyed it, as did I. And we both enjoyed visiting the websites of Bonus Material:
At sphdz.com, you can sign up to be a SPHDZ and help stop the Earth from being turned off.
At antialienagency.com, you can see what the government is doing to protect the Earth from the alien menace.
At mrshalleyscomets.com, you can see Michael K.'s fifth-grade class website.(and, according to Madigan Reads, with sufficient poking, you can apparently find more information about the Fried Santa Incident. I must go back and poke further!)
Thanks to the publisher, I have two copies of Spaceheadz to give away! The lucky winners will also each receive a neon Spaceheadz pencil! Please leave a comment (making sure there's a way to get back to you) by midnight (EST) on Monday, September 6th! (US only).
Once you have read book 1, you will want to find out what happens next. Happily, Spaceheadz book 2 is on it's way this December; here's the blurb:
"The campaign is going well. The SPHDZ word is getting out. 1000's of kids have signed up to say they are SPHDZ. But things haven't gotten any easier for Michael K. The SPHDZ are still trying to blend in to our Earth culture, but not very successfully. They're still mixing up Thanksgiving, cartoon plots, holidays, and commercials. This makes it especially hard for Michael K. to both hide the SPHDZ from Agent Umber and accomplish the SPHDZ Mission. He's forced to enlist the help of fellow fifth graders, Venus and TJ.
When they (Michael K. and the SPHDZ) are given the assignment to write and perform the school play, Umber thinks he's closing in on the aliens...the kindergartners playing the turkeys."