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George's secret key to the universe by Lucy and Stephen Hawkin

cover image Corgi Books, 2008. ISBN 9780552559584
(Age 7+) Highly Recommended. George Greenby's parents are eco-warriors, preoccupied with global warming, recycling and baking broccoli muffins. George is more concerned with trying to persuade his parents to buy him a computer, but as their electricity comes from an ancient generator, he would struggle to plug it in.

During an escape bid by the family's pet pig, George meets his new neighbours, ten year old ballet fanatic, Annie and her scientist Dad, Eric. George is also introduced to Eric's computer, Cosmos, the most intelligent computer in the universe, who is rather snooty (Think Orac in Blake's Seven) but clever enough to conjure up a portal into outer space. Add into the mix George's teacher, the sinister Mr Reeper, who is determined to kidnap Cosmos for his own dastardly plans, and you have all the makings of a thrilling adventure story.

What makes this book stand out is the skilful way that Hawking slips fascinating facts into an exciting storyline. During Annie and George's adventures through the portal into outer space we learn some amazing facts about our galaxy. Fact-boxes intersperse the story, providing information about subjects such as matter, exoplanets, neutron stars and black holes. There is also a selection of high quality colour photographs dubbed 'Cosmos's Picture Files'. Garry Parsons deserves a special mention for his delightful illustrations which appear on every page and add to the book's appeal.

George's Secret Key To The Universe has been short listed for the Stockport School's Book Award and has proved extremely popular in my school, and not just among the boys either. A minority of readers found the fact boxes irritating - and they do just appear - sometimes in the middle of a sentence (presumably because of paging constraints) which can be a little off-putting. However, George's Secret Key To The Universe hits just the right balance with a lively adventure story anchored firmly in the fascinating world of science and space. Here is a story that explains the nature of Black Holes so that primary school children can understand it - an impressive achievement!
Claire Larson


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