book cover

This book, written by the the late Stephen Hawking and his daughter Lucy, is a wonderful way to promote a love and appreciation for real science. Each of the five books in this series focus on a particular subject within the overarching Science branch of Physics.

The premise of book one is that an elementary school aged boy, George, has a scientist and his family move in next door. The scientist, Eric (an obvious fictional avatar for Stephen Hawking himself), has a daughter, Annie, who is a little younger than George, and a wife, Susan who is a music teacher. George has parents that are ecoactivists and have taught George to distrust Science and Technology. They use candles rather than electric lights, grow their own vegetables, are vegetarians who cook all their food from scratch (like broccoli and spinach muffins), don't use computers at all, and go on protest marches. At the beginning of the story George is embarrassed somewhat by his parents because he is made different from the other children at school because of them. Then George meets Annie and her father next door. Eric shows George that Science is amazing and not something to fear. He also teaches George that Scientists are concerned about the state of the planet (and working to help the situation) and that he admires George's parents for taking a stand. So George learns to be proud of his parents' foresight and comes to realize that he wants to grow up and be a scientist. George's parents eventually learn to accept Science and it's possible benefit to the planet and humanity. And of course everyone becomes friends in the end.

In order to accomplish all of these realizations on the part of all the characters in the story, the authors weave an amusing sci-fi plot complete with the world's most powerful computer (a quantum one), named Cosmos (able to create doorways into just about anywhere in the Universe), a comet ride around the solar system, an evil (or maybe not) scientist teacher, a black hole (which of course relies on Hawking radiation as a plot device), school bullies, and a grape-soda-loving escaped pig.

The book is interspersed with science essays that could be a bit over the head of younger elementary students and even sometimes older ones. They will be interesting for more advanced students however. It also includes many full color glossy photos from the Hubble. Science facts about the solar system and other cosmic objects are woven into the plot. Also incorporated into the plot is an understanding of how real science actually works and how scientists work together to accomplish it.

I've read this series to 5th grade classes and 2nd grade classes. Both ages of students loved the book and the following ones. My own children at ages 5 and 8 loved this series as well. I highly recommend the series to parents and teachers. Every elementary school library should have a copy of these. Also, the audiobook versions of these are very well done, although they take out all the science essays. They are dramatized with fun sound effects and voice acting.