Ever feel that modernity has gotten so strange you must be living on another planet? In “The Twinning Project” (Clarion Books, $16.99), Robert Lipsyte of Shelter Island posits a second Earth created by alien scientists to study evolution. But humans, as humans will, have made a mess of things (our stock-in-trade: war, starvation, genocide, environmental degradation), and the project is being abandoned — no more Earths.
It’s 1957 on the second Earth, however, and in case you haven’t been paying attention, what a difference a few decades can make. The author uses the contrast to continue the fine sci-fi tradition of laying out a social critique in the midst of a ripping good yarn.
Mr. Lipsyte has written young-adult novels before — “One Fat Summer,” for one — but this is his first foray into fiction for the middle grades, according to the jacket copy. Thus the setting of twin middle schools in New Jersey, attended by the book’s twin heroes, Tom and Eddie Canty — 2011 kid, 1950s kid; antisocial techie hacker and well-adjusted star athlete. They keep in touch through “thought beams.”
Nostalgia may be easy, but facts is facts, as they say, and the adult reader can be forgiven for getting swept up in a wistfulness for the leisurely pace and sensible mores of the Eisenhower-era seventh grade — no teaching-to-the-test rush, no gym teachers attending to their iPhones at the expense of instruction, no teachers dressing like teenagers and giving fist-bumps, no awful “teachable moment” jargon.
The story, in fact, hinges on a schoolwide Tech Off! Day effort in 2011 led by Eddie, who, having time-traveled to trade places with his twin, offers, “I think all these gadgets get in the way.” He answers the question “Besides, what would we do without the Internet?” with, “Talk to each other? Try to get along better?”
He does just that with a pimpled hulk of a bully, Britzky, diplomatically averting a showdown, calling him by his first name for a change, soliciting his help in the cause of circumventing the aliens. The big guy’s even got a brain and an interest in extraterrestrials and government cover-ups. It’s just one of a number of worthwhile lessons in the book. (Maybe you’ve had a similar experience: The murderous-looking hick you sit next to at the truck stop counter turns out to be a birder with a heck of a life list.)
Those two join forces with Tom and a couple of likable outcasts — Alessa (heavy, too smart and skeptical to be popular) and Ronnie (shrimpy and chronically underfed, disheveled and essentially homeless) — to try to save the Earths. A warning: There’s no war of the worlds here, but rather a sly sensibility and a slow reveal of an absorbing plot leading to an end point at a hospital for the criminally insane — and to a welcome future sequel.
“1, 2, 3 . . . by the Sea”
If the profusion of beaches is the primary reason for living here, then surely the best way to introduce a kid on the East End to reading and counting is with a picture book charmingly illustrating all manner of sandy fun to be had down by the water.
“1, 2, 3 . . . by the Sea,” out this month from Kane Miller, is by Dianne Moritz with illustrations by Hazel Mitchell. It stars a boy, his mom, and his dog, Max, whose adventures progress in rhyme from “Striped umbrellas in the sun . . . flapping, snapping. We rent one” on up to “Plovers hide in beach-grass glen . . . peeping, sleeping. We spot ten.” They don’t head home till the moon comes up.
This is a slim little book of 30-some pages retailing for only $6.99, and yet you parental bibliophiles out there might find yourselves wishing for a biographical note or two, maybe a sentence on the mediums used by the illustrator. But until then: Dianne Moritz lives in North Sea. Her previous children’s book, also from Kane Miller, was the summery “Hush, Little Beachcomber.”
“On My Way to the Bath”
Speaking of watery counting, the prolific painter, cartoonist, and puppeteer Michael Paraskevas of Southampton is back with another kids’ book, this time joining Sarah Maizes, a Los Angeles humorist and former animation exec.
“On My Way to the Bath” (Walker & Company, $15.99) takes on a perennial struggle for parents — bath time. And those are the first two words here, uttered by a harried mom to little Livi, who’d frankly prefer to let her imagination run wild, which she does as long as possible and in every possible way, in every room, to put off her “boring” soak.
In his colorful, seemingly quick-sketched style, Mr. Paraskevas depicts Livi as a snake terrifying her baby brother, a builder of a monstrous sculpture made of blocks, a rock star cutting a rug to her older sister’s iPod, and so on until she becomes a pouncing cat attacking her poor mother. Paraskevas fans will find happily familiar touches throughout — what looks like the Tangerine Bear, a jungle straight out of the Green Monkeys, even Livi’s impishness, which echoes that of Junior Kroll.
The numbers, though, have to do with Mom’s annoyed counting to 10, at the end of which Livi better be in the tub, or else.
Of course then she doesn’t want to get out.