George's Secret Key to the Universe

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
George's Secret Key to the Universe Book Poster Image
Stephen Hawking tale confuses fact and fiction.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 7+
Based on 3 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Purports to teach the basics of astronomy and physics, but in the fiction parts, the laws of science are disregarded.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's nothing objectionable here, and much to learn. But some kids may need help sorting facts from fiction -- on the fiction side, the authors have made the surprising choice to ignore the rules of science. Kids may be confused.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written bytermano January 10, 2014

Really useful

My daughter loves this book. We read it two times and she enjoyed both. I do not agree with your review, my kid's age is six and she likes the fiction part... Continue reading
Adult Written byFraser G. March 15, 2018

Personal experience

This was the second real book i read as a kid (other than early reading help books) and it was amazing I'm now 19 i still remember it and it is a big influ... Continue reading
Kid, -1 years old February 4, 2011
Kid, 9 years old March 8, 2009

learn you planets... the fun way!

I just loved this book! I think it is a good book for children 7 to have read to them. Kids 8 and up can read it themselves. It is a very good way to learn the... Continue reading

What's the story?

George, whose parents shun all technology (even light bulbs!) is thrilled to find that his new neighbors, Eric and his daughter, Annie, have the world's most advanced computer. Known as Cosmos, it can open doorways to space and other planets. But George's sinister teacher seems to have an unusual interest in finding out more.

Interspersed with the story are nonfiction sections with information about -- and photographs of -- planets, stars, and other celestial objects, including the author's latest theories about black holes.

Is it any good?

Stephen Hawking may be a genius at physics, but he has a lot to learn about children's books. GEORGE'S SECRET KEY TO THE UNIVERSE is an example of what you get when someone decides to write for children because, after all, how hard can it be? It also exemplifies the dangers of trying to combine teaching with storytelling: What you often end up with is a preachy, didactic story told in a condescending tone with stereotypical characters and a plot that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

The nonfiction parts are fine: good information, clearly told, with some spectacular photos. But surprisingly, much of the fictional story isn't scientifically accurate. This might be forgivable in straight sci-fi or fantasy (though even there kids like to have things make sense), but in a book that purports to teach the basics of astronomy and physics, it's just confusing -- how are young readers to know what's true, what's theoretical, and what's just plain nonsense?

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the facts, fictions, and theories in the book. Which are which? How can you tell the difference? Why does the author mix them up? Also, why would a famous scientist like Stephen Hawking write a book like this? Why didn't he make the fiction part scientifically accurate, too?

Book details

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