Today I read Star Jumper: Journal of a Cardboard Genius, by Frank Asch (Kids Can Press, 128 pages). This is a quick and accessible read, which I would put at about a third grade reading level. Alternatively, it could suit older reluctant readers, especially boys.
The book is about a boy named Alex who has a keen interest in scientific invention, a healthy ego, and a pesky six-year-old brother named Jonathan. In order to get away from Jonathan, the bane of his existence, Alex decides to build a spaceship out of cardboard boxes, and travel across the universe. Using odds and ends from around his house, he invents all of the necessary trappings for space travel: the ship, the space suit, the oxygen generator, the atom slider, and the micro blaster (you'll have to read the book for the details). But before Alex can leave town (yes, the spaceship really does fly), Jonathan reveals his own capacity for invention, and throws a wrench into the works.
I think that this book will have considerable appeal for young boys, thanks to the details of the spaceship and the other inventions. I think that for boys who have annoying younger brothers, the book may be irresistible. The sibling rivalry is realistically depicted, as are the caring psychologist parents. I personally found Alex's ego a bit off-putting (he keeps going on about what a genius he is), but I think that the book's target audience will be able to relate to this.
What I love about this book are the illustrations. This is a chapter book, but scattered throughout the text are small black and white illustrations, drawings from Alex's journal. My favorite is a map of the universe, labeled "me" at one end, and "Jonathan" at the other end. Anyone who has ever had a younger sibling will immediately relate to this drawing. There's also a drawing of Jonathan as a baby, saying his first words: "I'll tell Mom". Oh, the joy of younger brothers!
As you might expect in a children's book that addresses sibling rivalry, the book does conclude with some resolution of the conflict between Alex and Jonathan. But it's far from heavy handed, and seemed to me realistic rather than overdone.
So, if you have a child who is fascinated by space travel, or who likes to invent things from ordinary household objects, or who is driven to distraction by a younger sibling, you should give Star Jumper: Journal of a Cardboard Genius a try. You won't regret it.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.