Friday, June 25, 2010

SPHDZ, by Jon Scieszka - BE ALL YOU CAN BE! (ages 8 - 12)

Did you ever play the game when you were kids of seeing who could identify the company from a TV ad the quickest? Could you tell what ad it was, just from the first few notes of the jingle? Do kids still play this?

I'm not sure how many kids watch TV commercials - do they just fast forward through them, or are they still watching them? Regardless, kids are bombarded by advertising wherever they turn - whether it's on the Internet, billboards, or cereal boxes. Jon Scieszka's newest series, Spaceheadz, takes this and turns it on its head. Three aliens land on Earth and all they know about us comes from TV, the Internet and radio.
SPHDZ Book #1 (Spaceheadz)
by Jon Scieszka with Francesco Sedita
illustrated by Shane Prigmore
NY: Simon & Schuster, 2010
ages 8 – 12
available on Amazon and your local bookstore
Scieszka's newest series is an irreverent take on kids and advertising. Michael K. has just started fifth grade at a new school. On top of that, he's sitting next to some truly strange kids. In fact, they don't seem to be kids at all. They are aliens – real aliens who have invaded our planet in the form of school children and a hamster. Their mission is to convince 3,400,001 kids to BE SPHDZ. But these kids (aliens) talk like walking advertisements – all they know about Earth they learned from watching TV, listening to the radio, or surfing the Internet. For a sense of the book, here's an excerpt from the first chapter:
"Michael K. decided he would goof right back . . . then move his seat as far away from them as possible.

'I get it,' said Michael K. 'You are Spaceheadz from another planet. On a mission to Earth. Here to take over the world. Take me to your leader. Bzzt, bzzzt.'

'See! I told you, Jennifer!' said Bob. 'Michael K. can do anything! He is like a rock. MMM, MMM GOOD.'

Jennifer burped up the eraser from Michael K.’s only pencil. She spit it out.


'Eeek eek,' said the class hamster.

Room 501-B went silent except for the sound of Mrs. Halley writing on the chalkboard.

The thought occurred to Michael K. that Bob and Jennifer were not joking."
(c) JRS Worldwide LLC, 2010
Ad jingles are sprinkled throughout, from "Just Do It" to "The Quicker Picker Upper" to "Reach Out and Touch Someone." I thought those pop culture jokes were very funny, but I'm not sure kids will get them.

While this series isn’t for everyone, some kids – especially reluctant readers or readers who like figuring out a puzzle – will enjoy the short chapters, references to pop culture, fake websites, and crazy situations that Michael K. finds himself in. Other reviews have commented that it was confusing, but I followed the plot without problems. The chase scenes and goofy situations that Michael’s new “friends” get into are funny, but the ending did not have the zip and zaz that the middle of the book did. I felt that the ending fizzled a little bit, and I didn't feel the book really explained why Michael K. decided to help his new friends.

This book can make a fun launching pad for talking about media literacy, the power of advertising and the danger of believing everything you see and hear. The websites mentioned in the book are all real, albeit fake websites. My favorite is AAA: The Anti-Alien Agency. It's a very funny spoof of a government agency. But it would be great to ask the question - how do we know this is a spoof? How do you know what websites to trust as providing real information?

I know as a kid I would have had great fun with this book. Each chapter title is also written in code - hopefully future books in the series will use this code in the plot. The illustrations are funny and enhance the plot.

This book trailer gives a quick sense of the book:

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this page, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

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