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George's Secret Key to the Universe
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?