Monday, February 26, 2018

Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth

Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth
by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Recommended Ages: 10+

Looking after his forgetful grandfather, so granddad can continue to look after him, has gotten extra difficult lately for silent young Prez Mellows. When the old man's latest exploit has led to him being driven away in a police car, Prez is consigned to the Temporary - that's southern Scotland for a facility that houses underage wards of the state. Because it's summer, the Temporary in turn places him with a farm family, where everybody talks non-stop, so they hardly notice how Prez never says a word. While he's there, he befriends a strange boy named Sputnik, whom everyone else sees as a dog (though each person sees a different dog). Sputnik claims he has come to Earth from across the universe, to protect the boy when Galactic Downsizing plans to reduce the planet to the size of a tennis ball to make room for more interesting worlds.

Together, they start a list of 10 reasons not to destroy the earth. Meantime, Prez hopes to spring his granddad from jail, even though he has nothing to guide him except a cryptic map his grandfather made of all the places they've visited. Sputnik shows Prez that gravity is more interesting than he knew, that the TV controller can fast-forward or rewind more than what's on TV, and other examples of the surprising things you can find out if you actually read the instructions to things. Together they capture a couple of burglars, lead a jailbreak (first going out, then back in), teach a real dog to speak English, cut down a tree with a child's toy and put it back together again, and build a leaning tower of haystacks. Their adventures are weird and wonderful, and eventually bring the voice out of a child who has been holding it in all his life.

I had a great time reading this book. It made me laugh out loud, and abounded in strange ideas and little-known facts. Under all the gags and special effects, it has a gentle, warm heart. But then, I've liked pretty much everything else I've read by Frank Cottrell Boyce, who won a Carnegie Medal for Millions. His other books for young readers include Framed, Cosmic, Desirable, The Unforgotten Coat, Triple Word Score, The Astounding Broccoli Boy, Runaway Robot, and four sequels to Ian Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

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