CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 14 . . . . March 2, 2007
Gravity Buster: Journal #2 of a Cardboard Genius.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2007.
143 pp., pbk. & cl., $6.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (cl.).
ISBN 978-1-55453-069-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55453-068-7 (cl.).
Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.
Review by Anna Swanson.
How could someone build an entire spaceship in just two weeks? Well, the fact that I work mostly in cardboard certainly helps. Cardboard is the least appreciated, most underrated building material ever invented. Not only is cardboard light, strong and easy to work with, it's free. Cardboard is also a perfect way to disguise the greatness of one's true accomplishments. I rebuilt Star Jumper in my bedroom. My mom walked by it every time she vacuumed my floor and picked up my dirty socks. But she never once suspected it was a real spaceship. She and my dad think it's just a toy. Something for me and Jonathan to play with. HA! He's the reason I want to leave Earth in the first place. I can't stand the thought of wasting the remainder of my precious childhood years living in the same house with that creep!
Welcome to the world of child-MacGyver and self-proclaimed scientific genius, Alex, who can make anything from spaceships to anti-gravity machines out of cardboard, paperclips, duct tape, springs from ballpoint pens and whatever broken appliances his neighbours unwittingly make available on garbage day. Alex isn't interested in fame and fortune. In fact, he takes great care to get some answers wrong at school just to make sure his true identify isn't revealed. Sure, he'd be rich and famous, but he doesn't want to be a media freak. Plus, he wants to make sure the military doesn't use his scientific discoveries to make weapons of mass destruction. If it happened to Einstein, surely it can happen to the world's smartest boy supergenius.
Alex can't wait to leave Earth behind, but his real goal is to escape from his younger brother, Jonathan, whose purpose in life is to make Alex miserable. But he's willing to wait until Zoe Breen finishes her science fair project on the peanut-butter preferences of squirrels. Alex has finally found someone he trusts enough to let in on his secrets and, if Zoe passes the trustometer test, he's hoping she'll be the co-pilot for his upcoming intergalactic mission and together they can comb the universe looking for a suitable Jonathan-free planet.
After years of producing successful picture books, Frank Asch has brought his wit and imagination to the task of writing for young readers. This illustrated chapter book is the sequel to Asch's earlier book Star Jumper: Journal of a Cardboard Genius. Gravity Buster is periodically illustrated by simple but endearing pencil drawings meant to emulate Alex's sketches in his scientific notebook, which may just become "the most monumental manuscript in the history of mankind." The sketches show diagrams of everything from important equations like P+JxT=A (patience plus Jonathan multiplied by time equals anger) to the effects of gravity on different sized planets, as well as detailed diagrams of Alex's inventions.
The narrative, written in Alex's humorous and entirely immodest voice, is full of pseudo-scientific jargon and the quintessential dialogue of sibling rivalry ("Big Meanie! Banana Brain! Pee-Pee Head!"). And, in case you're wondering, the inventions really do work - although advanced quantum properties make their effects reversible or otherwise undetectable to the parental eye.
Much of the plot revolves around Alex's frustrating relationship with his younger brother who, hating being left out of Alex's scientific adventures, devises various schemes to make Alex's life difficult and to get him in trouble. Alex's psychologically sensitive parents tells him it's normal sibling rivalry and that Jonathan just wants some of his attention, but Alex knows better. Clearly Jonathan is out to wreck his inventions and ruin his life. But when Jonathan's scheming reveals his own ingenious creativity, will Alex be forced to reconsider?
There is nothing edgy, innovative or overly literary about this book, but that is exactly what will make it appealing to young readers; this is good solid writing that is both accessible and fun. Written in a genre I can only describe as a younger sibling to science-fiction, this book will appeal to kids who like science, neat-o contraptions, and the everyday banter of sibling coexistence.
The kid-centric voice, fun illustrations and light humorous tone make this book an excellent candidate for a primary classroom read-aloud. Teachers may appreciate the science-positive tone of the book that celebrates imagination, invention, discovery and science without coming across as a "teaching" story. In fact, it's often hard to tell where science ends and imagination begins, but this is part of this book's charm – fractions are real, Einstein is real, quantum mechanics is real, but how about anti-gravitron isolators or a fish that is able to swim between the two severed halves of a fish bowl through quantum dislocation?
Anna Swanson, who is completing her Master of Library and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia, currently works as a student librarian for the Richmond Public Library.
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