It’s Kid Lit Blog Hop Day, and folks who visit me mostly from there might think that youth graphic novels are all I read, because of how often they come up on Wednesdays. But there are always a lot of great kids’ books of every stripe, so go on over to the hop and take a look!
As so often happens, Charlotte wrote a review that made me seriously track down some books I’d previously heard of but not read. I’d even met the author in person at our local Kids Read Comics event… so next time we go, I can tell him how much I loved his books! The second book in this series was nominated for a Cybils award this year, and I read both of them aloud with the boy.
Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity by Dave Roman. First Second, 2011.
Astronaut Academy is a boarding school in outer space (the students seem to be middle school aged), which is a fantastic premise to start with. Our main hero, Hakata Soy, is just starting at Astronaut Academy in the middle of term. The school’s most popular girl, Maribelle Mellonbelly, immediately falls for his cool, spiky hairdo – only to turn on him completely when he is befriended by her arch-rival, the sweet and nerdy Miyumi San.
The narrative rotates around a rather large cast of characters, but Roman keeps them all straight, giving them distinctive appearances and heading each chapter with the character’s name, as in “My name is Miyumi San and I go to… Astronaut Academy.” A larger picture emerges from this patchwork: Hakata Soy is a boy with a past, a past that involved being part of a superhero team he’s no longer in communication with, and rescuing a planet full of bunnies from the villainous bird-men. But his enemies have not forgotten him, and now a cybertronic duplicate of him is stalking the halls of Astronaut Academy.
I loved so much about this book, from the adorable pictures to the quirky setting, and especially including the language, which sounds like it was imperfectly translated. Here’s an example:
“Since you are unrecognizable to me, you must be the student who is SUPPOSED to be new here.”
I usually go through my own writing trying to avoid using the same word too many times in a row, but Roman uses homonyms multiple times in the same sentence to hilarious effect, as here:
“I know his name is Hakata Soy but not much else, because he has reserved the right to remain RESERVED… I won’t push the issue since teaching math is a higher calling than my casual interest in CHARACTER PROFILING.”
You can’t get much more diverse than the population of Astronaut Academy, which includes humans with lots of skin tones and names that range from European-sounding to Asian and Middle Eastern, but also includes elves and talking bunnies and pandas.
This is a fun boarding school adventure in space – so much kid appeal! – with underlying explorations of friendship. I dare you to resist it.
Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry by Dave Roman. First Second, 2013.
Re-Entry begins with the end of the break that started at the close of Zero Gravity. Hakata has spent the break with Miyumi because no one came to take him home, and is inspired to try to make more friends at school by watching the normally quiet girl perform with her rock band.
Once back at Astronaut Academy, though, trouble starts again. In this world, people have multiple hearts, and normally exchange them with their closest loved ones. Exchanging hearts is fine, but now someone is going around Astronaut Academy convincing people to give up their hearts – and then eating them. Hakata’s roommate Tak is an early victim, now disbarred from playing on the school Fireball Team because he is down to one heart. He convinces Hakata to join the team in his stead, so they’ll still have a chance at the big game.
There’s also a strong element of mayhem, courtesy of Team Feety Pajamas, who now count Cybert, Takata’s double from the last book, as one of their number. When the heart-eating gets to be such a large problem that the administration has to do something about it, their first step is a ban on love. Miyumi is the first to rebel against the new rules, leading a team of students in figuring out another way to defeat the heart-stealing monster.
It’s more mayhem and adventure with a sweet center, in a series that my boy and I are both loving. We’ll definitely be keeping our eyes open for the next Astronaut Academy book!