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What's the story?
When we last saw Charlie, at the end of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he was sailing through the sky with his family in Willy Wonka's Great Glass Elevator. At the beginning of this sequel, the flying Elevator accidentally hurtles into outer space, where a Commuter Capsule is shuttling its passengers to the Space Hotel U.S.A.
The Capsule's astronauts mistake the Elevator's passengers for aliens. But there are real aliens inside the Space Hotel--slimy Vermicious Knids. Mr. Wonka, Charlie, and his family escape just in time, but some of the Capsule's passengers not so lucky--several of them are killed. For a while, it looks like the aliens will get them all. But Mr. Wonka uses the Great Glass Elevator to get everyone safely back to earth, where the President, a bit of a buffoon, invites them to the White House.
Is it any good?
This zippy tale is enjoyable enough, but it doesn't live up to the promise of Roald Dahl's first tale of Charlie Bucket's adventures with Willy Wonka. The main problem is that the story just isn't as timeless as the first. Surely adults will recognize the sly satire of the American space program and the Cold War of the early '70s, but children probably won't.
What is timeless, though, is Dahl's irreverent wit and irrepressible imagination. Children will be charmed when Mr. Wonka uses bad nonsense poetry to convince astronauts and the gullible authorities back on Earth that he is an alien invader. Readers will also be thrilled by the real aliens, the inventively named Vermicious Knids, who are horrifyingly stretchy egg-shaped creatures with disgusting "greenish-brown skin of a shiny, wettish appearance." If your children haven't come across Charlie and the Chocolate Factory yet, make sure they read it first.