Escape the Mask: David Ward
Graceling: Kristin Cashore

The Zack Proton Books: Brian Anderson

Books: The Adventures of Commander Zack Proton and the Red Giant, The Adventures of Commander Zack Proton and the Warlords of Nibblecheese, and The Adventures of Commander Zack Proton and the Wrong Planet.
Author: Brian Anderson
Illustrator Doug Holgate
Pages: ~120 each
Age Range: 7 to 10

Zack Proton and the Wrong PlanetLeapin' leptons, these books are fun! I think that the Zack Proton books are perfect for early elementary school boys (and girls, too, but I think that they'll especially resonate for boys). Written by Brian Anderson and Illustrated by Doug Holgate, these are heavily illustrated chapter books, complete with entertaining chapter titles, occasional comic strips, lists, schematics, quizzes, and even the odd recipe. The format is sure to appeal to the reluctant and/or relatively new reader. As is the premise.

Zack Proton is a young, intergalactic starship commander. Despite his lofty position, Zack is, well, a bit of an idiot. As the first book (The Adventures of Commander Zack Proton and the Red Giant) begins, Zack, in need of a "potty stop" accidentally opens the wrong door (despite a considerable array of warning signs), and finds himself floating around helplessly in space. Fortunately, Zack is rescued by another spaceship, this one captained by a chimpanzee called Omega Chimp. Part of the ongoing humor of the series lies in the fact that Omega Chimp is much brighter than Zack. Omega Chimp wants nothing more than to get Zack off of his ship, and out of his life. Zack, however, proceeds to wreak havoc on Omega Chimp's ship, and leads them both into various adventures.

Zack Proton andthe Warlords of NibblecheeseIn the first book Zack and Omega Chimp rescue a slightly defective robot called Effie, save a planet, and encounter a red giant called Big Large. There are quantum torpedoes, attempts to run away, and a defective banana generator. In the second book (The Adventures of Commander Zack Proton and the Warlords of Nibblecheese), our space heroes set out to rescue a second grade teacher from a band of warrior space mice. In the third book (The Adventures of Commander Zack Proton and the Wrong Planet), they encounter a disappearing and reappearing planet (called Bounceback), and sixteen million smelly pigs (you see what I mean about this being a boy-friendly series?).

The plots are, of course, ridiculous. How can a machine on a spaceship make bananas? Who ever heard of warrior space mice? How could a whole planet fit through a wormhole? Why can Zack survive in outer space without a spacesuit, and what are the odds of another spaceship just happening along and bumping into him? But none of that matters in the slightest. What makes the Zack Proton books work is the humor. I flagged tons of pages that tickled my funnybone:

"Step 2 (of a recipe for banana pancakes) - peel the bananas and mash them with a fork if your mom is there, or with your hands if she's not. It won't look very tasty when you're done, but don't worry -- you used to love this stuff when you were a baby." (Page 59, Red Giant)

(In the midst of a FAQ) "Gratuitous educational content obliterated" (Page 94, Red Giant)

"You watched an educational show?" Omega Chimp asked.
"I had to," Zack answered. "I couldn't find the remote control." (Page 16, Nibblecheese)

"What are you doing?" he (Omega Chimp) screamed over the noise.
"We're being heroic," Zack called back.
"It only looks foolish," Effie added.
Then the whole ship started to shake. (Page 95, Wrong Planet)

I also like the way Zack speaks in threes, with alliteration and a somewhat advanced, but ever entertaining, vocabulary. For example: 

"We're on our way right now to battle that big bully, conquer that crimson cream puff, vanquish that vermilion villain!" (Page 73, Red Giant)

You get the idea. The chapter titles are also usually fun ("Out of the Flying Pan", "The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Mousemen"). And on one numbered list in Wrong Planet, instead of a 3, there's a Pi symbol between items 2 and 4, with a footnote "close enough". Readers will find irreverent fun on every page.

Zack Proton and the Wrong PlanetI highly recommend the three Zack Proton books. I think that they are a perfect choice for second and third graders, especially boys. And, since they are small, inexpensive paperbacks, there's no reason in space not to add them to your classroom or home library. Perhaps the publisher will decide to add more books to the series in the future...  

Publisher: Aladdin
Publication Date: 2006-2007
Source of Book: Review copies from the author (who I met outside of a middle school in Austin, TX)
Other Blog Reviews: Three Silly Chicks, Book Moot, Boys Rule Boys Read!, BookKids Recommends, Armchair Interviews, GregLSBlog
Author Interviews:  Cynsations

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.