Two fun science fiction books for younger readers

Here's a quick look at two science fiction books, both great for the younger middle grade set (ages 8-10), that were nominated for the Cybils this past fall.

Hal Junior: The Secret Signal, by Simon Hayes (Bowman Press, 2011, 186 pages). Young Hal is living a somewhat humdrum life about a space station, enlivened only by his efforts to push the boundaries of the mischief and adventure a boy can find in such a constrained environment. But then a sinister plot begins to unfold--the space station's children, and Hal's mother, are kidnapped and held for ransom. Fortunately Hal manages to escape, and, with the help of the friendly ship's computer and his own quick wits, defies the dangers of outer space and foils the plot.

It's a light, humorous story, with little illustrations that made me chuckle. It's not, however (and I don't think the author meant it to be) a convincingly realistic look at life aboard a space station (little details like Hal's shoelaces, which, in my mind, have no place in space, and the unlikely filing cabinet used as a weapon (why would a space station have filing cabinet?), make this clear). This made me doubtful at first, but once I realized that I should be reading it somewhat tongue in check, I was able to relax and enjoy the fun adventure for the amusing diversion that it is. Probably the intended audience won't suffer from my hesitation!

In a similar vein, although much more straight up in its telling, Pamela F. Service takes on the science fiction trope of alien encounters in Escape From Planet Yastol (Darby Creek, 2011, 102 pages). Young Josh is, in one sense, living a writers dream--his fictional characters are real, and he gets to met them! But it's more of a nightmare, in as much as his characters are sinister blue aliens. When Josh and his little sister Maggie find themselves transported to planet Yastol, and thrown into sinister plot, Josh must use all of his authorial knowledge to get them home again. (He also has to learn to appreciate his little sister more--she turns out to be a key player in her own right).

Again, this is one the intended audience should enjoy lots. There's some ickiness viz the aliens and the alien planet, some humor, and the concept of exploring one's own created world with all it's strange beings should be fascinating to young authors.

(disclaimer: Hal Junior was received from the author in advance of the Cybils, and Escape from Planet Yastol was received from the publisher for Cybils consideration).

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