________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 5 . . . . October 29, 2004


TJ and the Rockets. (Orca Young Readers).

Hazel Hutchins. Illustrated by Krysten Brooker.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2004.
105 pp., pbk., $7.95.
ISBN 1-55143-300-1.

Subject Headings:
Inventions-Juvenile fiction.
Science projects-Juvenile fiction.
Shoplifting-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Liz Greenaway.

***1/2 /4


My name is TJ Barnes and sometimes I should quit while I'm ahead.

Early Thursday morning, Gran turned up at our door with a long, skinny box. Inside were cardboard rolls, balsa wood and knotted string.

"It's a kit I picked up for you at a garage sale, TJ," she said. "Smell this."

She placed a small gray tube in my hand. The smell was sharp and smoky all at once.

"Gunpowder," said Gran.

I couldn't believe what Gran was saying.

"You want me to build a bomb?" I asked.

TJ dreads the science fair. Just the mention of it is enough to ruin his day. The idea of everyone in the whole school walking by and saying, "Look what a dumb thing TJ's come up with," makes him absolutely sick to his stomach, especially when the person who teaches science to the other class is Mr. Wilson. One problem is that Mr. Wilson, "Mr. Super Science" himself, has built an entire laboratory in the back of his classroom and practically does the projects for the students. The other problem is that ever since TJ can remember, things go wrong, wrong, wrong for him whenever Mr. Wilson is around.

     TJ's well-intentioned grandmother drops off a rocket making kit for him. When the first rocket plummets out of the sky, TJ is sure that his efforts are doomed. Meanwhile, his friend Seymour is determined to come up with a brand-new invention --- in two weeks.

     The fact that almost everyone can identify with TJ's fear of failure is testament to Hazel Hutchins' ability to write so well for a range of ages. The writing of the novel is tight, with just the right emotional tone. Interior black and white sketches by Krysten Brooker add humour and warmth while breaking up long stretches of text.

     All the familiar faces from the other books are here, but TJ and the Rockets can be read alone and is a perfect place to meet likable TJ. The resolution is predictable but very satisfying for anyone who has even a bit of TJ's insecurity still lurking inside. The theme would fit in very well with science and inventing. A teacher's guide is available. As well, there is a list of fine books on the topic of inventing at the back of the book.

Highly Recommended.

Liz Greenaway has worked in publishing and bookselling and resides in Edmonton, AB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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